Ellie Koo - 'Who Are You? (Nugusaeyo?) Director Q&A
We're always proud to provide a platform for experimental films, and Who Are You? is one of the best around. Winner of our 'Best Sound' award for VFF 2022, this is a film that really burrows into your bones (in a pleasant way...) Read on to see what director Ellie Koo had to say
VFF: Your film exhibits a range of forms and mediums, e.g. analogue editing, direct animation etc - which is your favourite to use, and which presented the greatest challenges on this film?
EK: My favorite, and consequently the most challenging process while working with 16mm film, has been working with analogue editing. I’ve been working on a Steenbeck with a trusty little splicer usually for hours on end, rewinding the film and making sure each timed cut and shot is in its place.
When I first started to do analogue editing, I found it really difficult. Moving from digital editing programs where a simple click and drag can move a clip to where I had to manually find, splice, and tape shots together was definitely a challenge. But, I do think it was incredibly rewarding in the way I came out thinking about filmmaking and editing. Analogue editing really allows you to be meticulous but in a different way than you’d be able to with digital editing. You get to see the film move in front of you, and really involve yourself in every decision made for the sequence of it. There is no better feeling than being content with your cut and getting to take off that spool from the Steenbeck.
For this film in particular, my fellow editor for this film, Brody, and I sat there and really committed ourselves to this process. We had hung our shots up and looked at it afar and thought about how we wanted to portray the way time worked (or rather, doesn’t work) in the film. We had to pay close attention to where we physically placed certain imagery and how it created moments of tension in the film. I’m happy with how it turned out, and the analogue editing process was huge for that.
VFF: Some of our audience members won’t have watched many Experimental films before. Do you have any you’d particularly recommend to them as further viewing?
EK: I feel very typical for saying this, but an experimental staple is of course Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) created by the avant-garde powerhouse Maya Deren and her husband, Alexandr Hackenschmied. I remember first watching this film at a screening at the Perez Art Museum as a junior in high school and just absolutely losing my mind in the best way possible. The way the film engages you and plays with the element of time, movement, composition, and space as a motion picture is so wonderful and stunning. It feels ethereal and almost scary. I love it very much. It’s a great introduction to avant-garde and experimental cinema.
Additionally, the work of Norman McLaren, a Canadian filmmaker and animator who often made experimental animation films, is so delightful. He plays with the cinematic medium in such a playful way full of color and surprise. His visuals are always so fun to watch in combination with his experiments with sound.
My educator in experimental 16mm filmmaking, Malic Amalya, also is someone I really recommend the work of. His deep dives into queer theory and socio-political matters with such rich images in his films is something I’ve felt deeply inspired by.
And to any audience members that enjoyed my film as experimental work, I would very much encourage them to continue to investigate the genre. It’s cool.
VFF: Your film is rich with imagery, is there a particular image whose importance you can explain further? E.g. the tiger
EK: For context, the film is a portrayal of 태몽, Taemong in English, a.k.a. a conception dream. In Korean culture, there is a great importance regarding what happens in our dreams, especially for pregnant people. Taemong typically occurs before or while somebody is pregnant, and the symbolism regarding imagery that can commonly appear in these dreams have to do with gender and/or the child’s relationship with the parent and their future.
While floral and delicate imagery can represent feminine traits in someone’s future child, imagery like that of the tiger that is common in my film, as well as other plants can predict masculine traits. Most taemong dreams usually have a concentrated feminine or masculine imagery, I include both.
Gender, as a construct related to culture and nation, and its involvement in the way a child is to be raised is weirdly and painfully significant. Gender reveals are considered such a substantial event, because it provides the caregiver(s) guidance on the child’s supposed position in the world, even informing their relationship dynamic. Through my dual imagery of both masculine and feminine symbolism in this instance of taemong, I aim to question the true importance of assigning these roles so early on, it’s restrictiveness, and even the paranoia it could cause a mother to not know how to form a relationship with their child, hence the repetition of “Who are you?” in formal Korean throughout the film, which you typically speak to a stranger or an elder.
Taemong as a premonition for a child’s identity and future, the presence of masculine and feminine imagery challenges and critiques the rigidity of gender, and portrays a story of growing tension between a mother and a child who the mother feels estranged from because of this gender ambiguity. And how fearful would it be to feel like you don’t know your own child, before they are even born?
Who Are You? (Nugusaeyo?) will be playing at Close-Up Cinema, Shoreditch, as part of Visability Film Festival 2022 on Saturday 19 February