Kim Ji-young attracted audiences’ attention when he directed two documentaries: Fraser Report – Who Made South Korea Economics Grows Rapidly and Hundred Years’ War in Korea: Two-Face of Syngman Rhyee in 2012. A few years later, along with the help from investigative journalist Oh Hee-jung, he tackled the subject of the Sewol Ferry Disaster. Researched mostly in secret during Park’s presidency, both Kim Ji-young and Kim Ou-joon produced a convincing hypothesis on why the ferry sank. In a way, it is easy to see it as the answer to all the lies that the Korean government fed to the world. Ultimately, Intention is a gripping and extraordinary documentary about a tragedy that should never have happened in the first place.
During the third edition of London East Asia Film Festival, director Kim Ji-young found time in between his busy schedule to talk about the process of making the film as well as what might have been behind the ferry sinking.
There has already been a documentary made about the Sewol ferry tragedy, titled The Truth Shall Not Sink with Sewol, or Diving Bell – in 2014 by Lee Sang-ho and Ahn Hae-ryong.The film sparked a massive scandal that involved the Busan International Film Festival. Given the pressure they found themselves under, how was it for you to make the documentary, did you make it while still under the regime of former president Park?
I started researching the Sewol tragedy from August 2014 and based on research and the information that I found I decided, around January 2015, that I wanted to make a documentary about it, and yes, it was done during President Park’s regime.
What was the response when other people learned that you were investigating the accident? Where there any concerns that you might open old wounds of those who lost their loved ones in the accident?
In the case of other documentaries that covered the incident from the beginning, right after when it happened, their focus was on why there was no immediate rescue and our focus was on why the ship sank in the first place.
At that time, everyone started to cover the story, the media, families and film crews, they all went to the harbour and focused on why there was no recuse, and because they concentrated so much on that particular issue, no one really cared what we were doing. Also during that time, the Korean press, as well as the world media, they all took on board what Park’s previous administration said: “It was a naval tragedy”; they carried that as news.
The main reason that I came over here is that I wanted to deliver a message to you, journalists, and the audience: that every single bit of information and data that was fed to you by Park’s government was a lie, it was all fake.
How did Kim Ou-joon get involved in the project?
Kim Ou-joon is a very famous reporter in South Korea. I had never met him before making the documentary or while I was doing my research for it. After doing my research, and finding more details about why the ferry sank, I realized that I needed to find a journalist who wouldn’t be afraid to report the truth. I looked around and I felt that Kim Ou-joon would be able to that.
At the time of the accident, nobody doubted the reports from the government and media, and, in all honesty, all the media reported was as the government wished. Journalists in South Korea were afraid to tell the truth. And if you said anything against the government or criticize it at that time, they would put you in jail. The media was also afraid that if they did say something, the government would have said that ‘this guy/reporter is a conspiracy theorist’, which would have led them straight to prison.
Kim Ou-joon was very brave and he was not afraid of speaking his mind, and saying he didn’t completely believe what the government was saying, he wasn’t afraid to go to prison.
I absolutely have to say this, while the impeached president Park was in power, what happened at that time was exactly the same as when her father was a dictator and in office. That’s something that many people don’t realise; on the surfice, it didn’t look like that, but it was exactly the same.
With President Moon making a promise to fully investigate the case, has any new information surfaced since?
President Moon is very adamant, he wants to find out what was behind the accident. The problem is, just because there is a new president and a few new ministers, it doesn’t mean that we can have a sudden shift in the tide. Many of the people who were responsible for covering the truth behind the Sewol Ferry Disaster and blocking the investigation from uncovering the truth are still in public office.
My goal with this film is also to get this film outside of South Korea, to make sure that the foreign press and audience learn what really happened, and I hope they will keep asking for the truth as well.
How much work did it require to go through the Coast Guard’s AIS raw data and radar logs from the Navy? How did you get the access to all these materials?
That was data that was presented by Park’s government. All the data that was used in my film was submitted by the government because of the opposition party, National Assembly Members, demanding that they do it. We bought the AIS data from Europe and US. Based on all the data we researched and analysed, we reached the conclusion that the AIS data that was presented by the Park’s government was completely false. Since the release of this film any attempt to discredit what we have shown in Intention has been proven wrong.
How did you manage to get Jung Woo-sung involved in the project?
Nobody imagined or believed that a top star like Jung Woo-sung would do the narration for our documentary. Everyone was afraid if they did the narration for the film they would be blacklisted, they would suffer for it. But we thought we had nothing to lose and that we should ask him to narrate the film. I spoke to Kim Ou-joon and told him to call the actor and as soon as he heard about our project and about the Sewol Ferry Disaster, he said yes.
Out of all the political documentaries that came out this year, Intention was the biggest box office success and Jung Woo-sung added to that success with his narration.
We would like to thank Kim Ji-young for taking the time to answer our questions and London East Asia Film Festival for organizing this interview.
Written and transcribed by Maggie Gogler
Interviewed by Maggie Gogler and Sanja Struna
Edited by Roxy Simons
All pictures © LEAFF