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Ko - production in Busan
  • Director and Programmer of SIWFF, KIM Sun-ah
  • by SONG Soon-jin /  May 21, 2018
  • “I will work fast in order to embrace the social problems women face”

    The 20th SEOUL International Women’s Film Festival (SIWFF) is counting down the days to the opening on May 31st. In 2016, the “sexual assault in film” hashtag and the Me Too campaign sounded the alarm in many parts of Korean society. SIWFF has been growing with its audience while uncompromisingly looking into the feminist issues in Korea through various discussions. We met with the chief programmer and director of SIWFF, KIM Sun-ah, who has been a long-time member of the festival.

    This year, the Me Too campaign spread like wildfire. You must have a lot of pressure with the 20th festival just around the corner. How do you feel? 

    We've been getting a great response from the audience so far, so people expect a lot from us. It's a lot of pressure because I know very well what people want from our festival. On top of that, it's the 20th year, so I feel like I should make the festival even better. It's been giving me nightmares. (Laughing)

    In the last 2 to 3 years, there has been a rise in young female feminists.

    This group of women has been criticizing cultural content like the films, the TV series, and the musicals, from a feminist's point of view. I believe they will be a major part of the festival audience. I can definitely feel that women in their 20s and 30s are more aware. They started to question the problems the older generation considered as the norms. If these young feminists continue to speak up and if women of the older generation are open to what they have to say, they will be able to support each other and unite themselves. I believe this will make for a better world. In the process, we will be able to see better female directors and better films about women.

    Last year, "Technofeminism - Women, Science & SF" and "Feminist Film Classics" were two retrospectives highlighted as key sections of the festival. This year, the main themes will be abortion, Me Too, and cyber sexual assault.

    In the past, we would only choose one theme to focus on, but there are increasingly more feminist issues to tackle, so we decided to pick three this year. On top of screening films, a feminist game critic, Anita SARKEESIAN, will hold a special seminar. We will also have a talk with CHUNG Hyun-baek, the Minister of Gender Equality and Family, regarding the abolition of the anti-abortion law. These thematics were discussed among the film selection committee, and our key programmer CHO Hye-young and I made the final call.

    The festival will introduce for its 20th anniversary a feature-length competition section. Is this something you had in mind for a while?

    Both the international feature-length competition and the Korean feature-length competition had been in discussion for a long time, but we couldn’t launch them before due to insufficient budget. This year, it became possible thanks to an increase in budget. The reason why a feature-length competition section was important for us is that this plays an important role in discovering and nurturing female filmmakers in the industry. Now, the numbers of female filmmakers at different steps of a film career form a pyramid. In the very first step, which is where women attend film schools or are studying film, you can see there are as many men as women. Sometimes, the women even outnumber the men. However, when they reach the second step where they debut their careers with short films, the ratio changes to 7 men for 3 women. Women have less opportunities to become professional filmmakers even during their education. If they're able to get out of school and reach step three where they make a feature film, the number drops to 15%. At the very top of the pyramid are female directors who have released their films in theaters. There are only a few. Unless we artificially adjust this imbalance in gender, female talents will continue to leave the industry. 

    In order to avoid this gloom future, what film companies can do is to get involved in steps 2 and 3 to support them. If we can allow the discovery of female directors with our Asian Short Film & Video Competition, which corresponds to the second step, and with our feature-length competition section, which represents the third step, there will be an increase in the number of female filmmakers and more films about women released in theaters. Female audiences and those who want gender equality in society will get to enjoy watching these films. It was like a homework I could only dream of finishing one day, and we finally have the budget to make it happen. The reward money is 20,000 dollars, which is quite a lot. All of the directors whose films are invited to the festival will enter the competition. I hope we will be able to help nurture female filmmakers from around the world, even the slightest.

    The forum on gender equality film policies continues this year. Why does the festival pick up again this topic?

    It first started in 2017 with a section and an international forum called “Equal Power of Swedish Women’s Cinema”. This year, the forum for equality in policies will be the fifth we’ve organized. A movement for gender equality, known as the 5:5 Movement, will be the main topic for a simple reason. I believe demographical data is the most important information when we try to implement egalitarianism in a democratic society. I wish such a data would be applied to policies. In order to change our audiences who are accustomed to heavily male-centered Korean films, we must continue to talk about the 5:5 Movement even if it feels forced and premature. When this becomes a reality, you will maybe feel momentarily disillusioned, but there is a lot we can learn through the process.

    What kind of progress will we see at this year's forum?

    This year, we'll take the time to compare in terms of gender equality film policies from all around the world. After the review, we'll look for ways we could change our industry while looking for new things to apply. I would also like to mention another international conference called "Film Feminism's New Challenge". Film policies are important, but so is film criticism. That's why we prepared this conference. We need to foster film critics who are feminists or those who care about gender equality. This is just as important as nurturing female filmmakers. Recently, many universities have been merging film studies with other departments, causing a decrease in people majoring in film criticism. That's why critics have been getting sparser. I want to change this. This year, we'll start by diagnosing Korean film criticism.

    Do you have any other plans for your 20th anniversary?

    We'll be selling DVDs of short films by Korean female filmmakers. We put together 20 shorts from leading Korean directors who had theatrical releases before. You can watch director YIM Soon-rye's Promenade in the Rain (1994) among many other directors' debut shorts. It will be made into a 4-disc box set. We're also planning a roundtable called “20 Years of SIWFF's Experience and the Future” while preparing a homecoming day where we'll invite all the people who are or have been members of the staff of the festival. In addition, we're making a documentary on the 20th anniversary. Director SEON Ji-yeon, who made our trailer this year, is working on it and it'll be introduced at the opening ceremony.
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