This 40-minute documentary
from Portlander and first-time filmmaker Miae Kim tells the story of South Korean farmers struggling against the expansion of a U.S. military base. The farmers, many of them elderly, held candlelight vigils for over 900 consecutive days. Some of them chained themselves to the roofs of their houses and pushed back against the riot police who came ahead of the bulldozers.
Kim, who is a radio producer by trade, was so inspired by the Pyeongtaek villagers' story that she bought a camera, took a crash course in videography and funded a trip to Korea out of her own pocket. She spent time with the villagers, documenting their struggle, armed only with a KBOO press pass.
Before the screening of Pyeongtaek, Struggles of South Korean Farmers for Land
at Liberty Hall Monday night, Kim made the tearful announcement that the people of Pyeongtaek will be evicted from their land and have signed an agreement to leave by the beginning of April.
Hot Action got a few words from Kim about her film, the process she went through to make it and the nature of success and failure in activism.
WW: What compelled you to make a film about this story?
Miae Kim: Well, I'm from South Korea. I'm an immigrant from South Korea. I happened to find out about the article. This story about this small village who are fighting against the eviction for a U.S. base. I live in U.S. So, I kind of felt responsibility to find out. It's my own government. I'm a citizen. So, I wanted to go there and find out what's going on. And because I speak Korean—I'm bilingual, English and Korean—it's easier for me too, and so that's why.
WW: Why did you choose the medium of film when you had been working in radio for most of your career?
My plan was to produce both a radio documentary and a video documentary, and actually, I produced both. I produced the radio documentary first, about two months ago, and aired it on my show—Radio Without Borders—on KBOO. Because they are far away, we don't know how they look like. These are elderly people. [They say], “I'm 60 years old. I'm 80 years old,” but when you see them, you can see their wrinkles. You can see they are really suffering. They are really stressed out. They are really sad. You can sometimes by seeing them, you can feel their emotions, what they are going through.
WW: It was very good quality, especially considering it was your first film. How much video training did you have before you left to shoot in South Korea?
I found out about this village in the summer, last summer. So, I wanted to go there and I had no equipment. I don't know how to do it. I knew about [Portland Community Media]. So I went to their orientation. I bought the equipment with help with another person, a technician at PCM. [PCM facilitator] Tim Rooney gave me crash course for two or three hours. [Ian McCluskey with Northwest Documentary Arts and Media] gave me I think two or three days—another crash course. So, when I went to Korea, I managed to videotape, but I made lots of mistakes. It's not [just] my work; it's a collaboration of the video activists there and me and also I got photos—like 30 photos—from a newspaper organization in Korea. So, it all came together. I'm the one putting it together with my original video footages, but I got a lot of help.
WW: What are you hoping people will take away from the film, now that you know the people are going to be forced out of their village?
It's very hard. When I found out they are going to be evicted, I was very sad. I was very depressed. I didn't know what to do. But I think they did their best. These are elderly people and fighting for four years—it's a long struggle, even though they had a lot of support. So, I think we shouldn't forget about them…I cried too. I felt guilty, actually. I went there in the summer and I just couldn't finish the documentary as soon as possible and I couldn't just produce it right away and let other people know about it. I just couldn't do it because I didn't know how to do it. So, I wasted a lot of time with other things going on in my life. So, I have some kind of guilt, but I think not all the struggles succeed all the time. It's like your own life—sometimes you succeed, [sometimes] you fail, right? Every struggle is like that. If we can win all the time, it will be great, but in reality, we are sometimes small. We don't always lose. That's what I hope for.
WW: What particular relevance do you think this will have to people in Portland?
We think Pyeongtaek, South Korea, is far away and we have nothing to do with that. I'm just an American citizen. I'm not doing that, but unfortunately, our government – U.S. government—is doing this. The South Korean government [is] doing this for the U.S. government so they can expand U.S. military base. And I think if you are a U.S. citizen, if you live in the U.S., I think we should feel responsibility. JULIE SABATIER
Check out Hot Action, WWire's weekly post about activists, demonstrations and other hot political action in and around Portland every week.
UPCOMING HOT ACTION EVENTS:
Thursday, March 22
Rising Tide/Beehive Collective Tour
Activism meets art when these two organizations get together to talk about climate change, celebrating earnest efforts and talking about new solutions. 8 pm at Reed College Kaul Auditorium, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd.
The Shape of the Struggle: Black Women and Civil Rights in Portland
Speakers from Volunteers of America, Portland Public Schools and Sisters in Action for Power will address the struggle against segregation in Portland and the legacy that endures today. 6:30 pm at In Other Words Women's Books and Resources, 8 NE Killingsworth St. Free.
Tuesday, March 27
Screening: Crude Impact
This award-winning documentary film examines the world's addiction to oil and the extremely unpleasant side effects it continues to have on human history. 7 pm at Proper Eats, 8638 N Lombard Ave. Free.