April 16, 2014. The South Korean nation had just witnessed a heartbreaking tragedy; Sewol ferry, with 476 passengers – mostly school students – capsized. To make the tragedy even more crushing, out of the 304 victims, 250 students from Dawon High School perished. At first, the government administration refused to apologize for the fact that the rescue came several hours after the ferry sank and with the Park’s right-wing government in power at the time, the truth was swept under the carpet, with falsified evidence served to the public on a silver platter.
Three years after the tragedy, President Park got impeached and imprisoned. With the new government in place and with Moon Jae-in as as the new president, the questions rose again about getting to the bottom of what really happened during the Sewol Ferry Disaster. The story of the ferry was first depicted in the 2014 The Truth Shall Not Sink with Sewol documentary, directed by Lee Sang-ho and Ahn Hae-ryong. While the documentary was intent on exposing the truth behind the rescue efforts and government’s involvement in media reports, it lacked the clarification of what happened on April 16 in the first place. Nevertheless, the documentary made a brave attempt to showcase the incompetence of Park’s government.
In 2018, yet another fascinating documentary about the Sewol Ferry Disaster saw the light of day. Intention, directed by Kim Ji-young and produced by the well-known investigative journalist Kim Ou-joon, shows what no other filmmaker, journalist or media had dared show before. The team provides strong clues – even if not necessary the ultimate answers – to the questions that many were bothered by: why did Sewol Ferry sink and why the rescue was delayed.
With the help of many experts, including a physicist, director Kim Ji-young builds a case to show that the ferry tragedy wasn’t just an accident. He presents the world with a detailed proof, based on Coast Guard’s AIS raw data analysis and radar logs from the Navy, that the information that the government provided was fake. With that data, Intention feels like an extended story to what we already knew from the 2014 documentary The Truth Shall Not Sink with Sewol.
With an extensive research that took over 3 years to complete and was done mostly in secret, the filmmaker interviews not only the professionals, but also parents of the victims, as well as survivors, including students.
Kim Ji-young tracks back Sewol’s journey from the moment it left Incheon harbour to the place where it sank; with the computer simulation showing the ferry’s exact position, the documentary shows images that people would not normally see in the accident coverage on TV. While watching the film, the viewers will start questioning why the government lied and the purpose behind it. As we watch it, it will be difficult to avoid feeling angry and sad; the worst of it all is imagining the nightmare of those last moments of the passengers, even as the entire situation is still beyond anyone’s comprehension.
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. Apart from showing their theory about the tragedy, the documentary – like the one from 2014 – raises even more questions: Who is responsible for Sewol’s sinking and for the deaths of the students? Ultimately, Intention is a gripping and extraordinary documentary about the tragedy that should never have happened in the first place.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Intention