Tuesday, August 21, 2012

1992 riots the centerpiece of Korean American Film Festival

1992 riots the centerpiece of Korean American Film Festival
The festival, which continues through Saturday, includes five films on the 1992 Los Angeles riots and their effect on the Korean American community.

For over a decade, Korean filmmaker Alex Ko has lived in a family silenced by the devastating loss of their store during the 1992 L.A. Riots. In the film "Pok Dong," the Ko family shares their story. (Alex Ko / August 10, 2012)

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By Jasmine Elist, Los Angeles Times
August 9, 2012, 6:20 p.m.
Thinking back on the 1992 L.A. riots, specific images come to mind: the grainy video of the Rodney King beating, burning buildings, and police and military on the streets. More fuzzy in the collective memory for many is the emotional and physical toll the mayhem took on the Korean American community in Los Angeles, as many people lost their shops and businesses.

Continuing through Saturday, the first Korean American Film Festival Los Angeles features 24 movies (including narrative and short films and documentaries), with its centerpiece program of five movies focusing on the Korean American perspective on the riots 20 years later. All screenings take place at the Korean Cultural Center, 5505 Wilshire Blvd.

K.J. Park, co-founder and director of the festival, said its overall theme is "the search for identity — that, I believe, is something many Korean Americans are still searching for. Are they Korean? Are they American? Who are they?"

Park, 34, said beyond letting audiences explore questions of identity, the festival is also about giving Korean American filmmakers a leg up. "For most minorities, it is always a challenge to break into the film industry, and this festival gives Korean Americans a platform to introduce their voice."

The festival is an extension of the Korean American Film Festival New York, which was founded in 2006 as the first festival in New York City to showcase the work of Korean and Korean American filmmakers.

As for the L.A. edition's focus on the riots, most of the documentaries are told through the eyes of second-generation Korean Americans, even though the riots greatly affected the businesses and dreams of many recent immigrants.

Alex Dongwan Ko, who immigrated to America when he was a year old, directed the documentary "Pokdong" (Riot), a candid account of his parents' experience.

"I think that in general the wider public hasn't heard many Korean voices in terms of what happened during the riots," he said. "It's important to hear really specific, personal stories about what it meant for the first generation to come here, chase the American dream and then have that dream destroyed."

Ko made "Pokdong" with the simple intention of opening a line of communication with his parents about their experience. The documentary follows Ko as he interviews both his parents and as the three of them revisit the video shop they had owned in Koreatown. While the shop was re-built, Ko's parents never felt comfortable returning to the area; it is currently owned by Ko's uncle.

"Even though we lived through it, we didn't really talk much about it. I also felt that I had the ability to speak in a way that my parents couldn't, so it was incumbent upon me to do so," said Ko, 35. "For any Koreans or Korean Americans watching my film, I hope they feel that some of my story is their story and that elements of my film are things they have wanted to say."

David H. Kim, executive director of both the L.A. and New York editions of the festival, directed the centerpiece film, "LAR20," his first feature-length documentary, which explores young artists and their opinions on the riots. "The significance of the 20-year anniversary is that 20 years is about one generation. This is a time when we can hear the second generation's voice and better understand how they look back and perceive the riots," said Kim, a former New York University film student.

"It also shows how much communication has happened inter-generationally. It's been very surprising how much of a keen interest the second generation has shown, and how deeply they want to look back and take something away from the whole experience of the riots."

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times

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