Text by Minjung Kim
Original interview by Ivonne Sheen
Minjung Kim is a young South Korean filmmaker whose latest work 100ft was one of the highlights in the latest edition of TIFF’s Wavelenghts section. After investigating about her fascinating work, we asked her some questions about her poetical approach to moving images and the film mechanism, throughout her work, which comprehends the films: Australian paper, FOOTAGE and 100ft. We also were curious about her influences and her relationship with language as a mean of reflection and creation. She answered us with a single long answer to our questionnaire, in her own style, which we reproduce entirely here.
Minjung Kim: When I studied Film in the US, I had Filmmaking classes in which all the students needed to learn how to shoot in 16mm format. We were given 100ft of Kodak raw stock in its yellow boxes and had to use it all until the end of year. When I heard ‘100ft’ for the first time, some of my classmates asked how many seconds or how many minutes was a 100ft of film. But I was curious about what was the length of it physically, that’s to say, the whole distance from the beginning to the end of the film strip. I think maybe because I come from a country where we measure by ‘meters’ and ‘centimeters’, not by ‘ft’ as in the US. During the filmmaking classes, whenever I held the film strips on my hand, rewind them, projected them, processed them, and cut them. I always have felt that film is physical and tangible material as human body is. I started to think of the relationship between physical length of film and temporal length as time based medium, also started to have a question about the standard of unit and measurement.
[About FOOTAGE] One foot of the 16mm film strip, contains 40 frames of images. I thought it might be fun to see 100ft of film roll that has 100 pictures of feet and each pictures of foot to have 40 frames. So I started to collect images including foot from medical textbooks, art books, dance books and fashion history books. I attended CalArts, and in its Dance Department, there were a lot of books such as ankle pain, body postures, medical remedies’ books related to feet. It was a fun adventure for me to ‘hunt’ foot ’s pictures at the library. During the research of foot’s images, I realized that male foot was used for the units, or scientific situations, and female foot was more considered as a sexual object. I tried to mix each part for FOOTAGE, but I started to think of the idea of (100ft) around that time because of the question of the biased standard. Something in between of having a question and having a resistance.
I made a concept for (100ft), which shows the gap between ‘1ft’ as the standard unit and the smaller one which cannot reach the standard. Even if there is a very small amount of gap per each foot, the gap will get bigger because it accumulates as time goes by. I knew the standard of unit was important in the industry for communication or practical reasons, but also I could not avoid to think of it as a way of oppression. Both sides would always collided in my mind. Imperial measurement system helped to know how to measure my film, but also made me uncomfortable because of the idea of a powerful person who made the system. I found out that one of my friends has an exact 1ft and the other one who had the smallest feet around me. I asked them to walk at the same place and at the same time, also each of their feet needed to be aligned very carefully. Through the 100ft of film, they stepped exact 100 times, and each foot has also 40 frames. That’s why (100ft) is exactly 100ft of film except of the credit part in the end. In the one single frame, the distance between them is getting wider. One can cross the whole frame, but the other one cannot. I chose the shooting location at Soda Lake, where there was an ocean long ago. But now is just evaporation, so a white desert salt covers the whole huge area now. It is in California where I participated in James Benning’s ‘Shooting Landscape’ class at my first year in CalArts. It was a perfect scenery to make a contrast between the bluish white background and two black gradations (the performers) like rulers.
When I shot (100ft) with my friends, there were interesting moments I did not expect. We were 5 people including the two performers at the Soda Lake. The other two and I, could only see the distance between those two performers. I was counting numbers loudly, and two people beside me were shocked because the physical distance between the performers was much further than they expected. After shooting, the performer who has smaller feet said she felt vulnerable when she saw that the other one who has a 1ft was getting further so fast. On the other hand, the ‘1ft person’ said he was so curious about her because the sound of her footstep was getting quickly farther than he expected. He was not allowed to look back during the shooting, so he was concerned about her until he finally could check whether she was ok, but only she was way behind him. I just explained their actions before shooting, so it was great to hear what they felt because it was exactly what I wanted to show through the film.
There is a work in progress project between FOOTAGE and (100ft). I thought I could finish it before (100ft), but it seems to have turned into an almost life-long project for me. It is also about ‘feet’- real human feet. I have been shooting real human’s feet with the people’s faces. The film recording duration for each foot matches their real size of feet. For example, I shot films of my friend’s new born baby’s feet which is very small and cute, and it’s around 1/5ft which means 8 frames of 16mm film. I collect lots of different size of feet, and all the feet images are going to be ordered by size – their length of duration time-. The bigger feet would be shown longer on the screen. In this way, the size of feet means a power in the Media. I could see the similar situation a lot in real life. The power of a certain party or group guarantees more time of appearance in the media. I might finish this project if I could find few more people who have the specific size of feet which I look for.
As much as I use words directly, people assume it is more poetic. It starts from ‘pun’ -a word play that explores different meanings of a word- and I am getting interested in the meaning underneath those words. If I find several layers among them, I start to think of the relationship between them, and the relationship around film mechanism. When I heard the word, ‘footage’, I was curious why people started to use this word when they talked about the films they shot. If this word were from my mother language, I might be less aware of it because it would be too natural. However, when I was studying film as a foreigner, some words made me wonder about their origin and made me play with puns. All the ‘foot series’ are related to human essence. Not just because we all have feet -in theory-, but because of the system of measurement and the history of units that are related to our society and our history. Also, film mechanism is like a human body’ functioning: capturing images, and engraving those images in an organ, and giving birth to an image in the dark room during the processing -that’s to say, the process of our sight perception-.
I came back from California after finishing school, and recently reside in Seoul, Korea. I keep making films with 16mm, and now I have started to think about measurement of time, and standards of time. Moving images are time based media, so I was curious how the system of measuring time in the world could be related to moving images. I visited Greenwich observatory in England last summer, and I’m still on the research stage. ‘Time’ is much harder than ‘physical length’ for me, but I want soon to work with the cinematic experience related to the concept of “time”.
Even though I finished school, I still sometimes talk to my film teachers in CalArts about my new works. Not only as teachers, but also as great filmmakers who are walking the ‘film path’ with me. They always gave me huge impressions. Charlotte Pryce taught me film material itself, and how to cook it. When I started to learn film from her, I was getting into the structure of celluloid itself. Also the illusion of film mechanism amused me, since I still was in the graphic design world . Australian Paper came from there. I have 1400 combination of color charts which belong to me from when I was in graphic design area. When I learned the mechanism of light on film, I wanted to transfer all the color combinations on the paper to film emulsion. I wanted to celebrate by myself that I arrived to the RGB world from the CMYK world. A series of offset dots on the paper were set down on the film grains. James Benning is one of my favorite filmmakers as well. When it comes to the structure of film based in the concept, he always knew what I was thinking so quickly. My favorite film of his is “RR”, it had an effect on me for FOOTAGE. He was my neighbor in California. And one day when I tried to test how far I could walk from my house as holding 100ft of film strip, his truck was passing by me. He was laughing and of course I knew quickly what I wanted to do. It was around the time when I was making (100ft). Morgan Fisher’s work has influenced me so much too. The way to explore the film and screening mechanism of him makes me think of film itself and the essence of moving images.