Interview: Hayoun Kwon, 489 Years Director

489 Years gives us access to the DMZ, and immerses us in the heart of the personal memory of a soldier. He tells us his experience in a research mission and the amazing discovery he made in the field full of mines. Hayoun Kwon’s animated film allows us to see a forbidden place, a place where nature has totally reclaimed its hold. We spoke with the director to discuss 489 Years and the future of virtual reality filmmaking. 

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489 Years focuses on the Korean DMZ and this seems to be a recurring focus in your films (Model Village and Panmunjom). Why do you think animation is an effective medium for focusing on the Korean DMZ?

By working with animation, I am able to play with fiction and fantasy within a forbidden area and my artistic work is an extension of hypothetical possibility. I am able to go beyond the limit of my reality. By the particularity of animation which is distinguished from reality, I use the animation as a means to overcome my political situation.

The film is based on the memories and testimony of a former South Korean soldier. How did you decide on Mr. Kim as the narrator and how did you gather his testimony? 

Mr Kim is one of the first people that I interviewed. I liked the naivety and intimacy of his story and it was when he told me about the mine and the flower that I immediately saw what I had to do.

You use computer-animation for allowing for us to be invited in to an unreachable space and have used virtual reality filmmaking in the past. Where do you see the direction of virtual reality filmmaking going? 

Virtual reality will take an increasingly important place in our time. It is a fascinating medium which we still have much to learn about so it is important that we experiment with it. In virtual reality, there is no frame, we are completely immersed in it so in a way is more difficult than cinema. It is necessary to work out how to attract the attention of the spectator and direct their glance.

The themes of identity, freedom and forbidden spaces seem to be recurring in your work. What is it that attracts you to these themes?

I think artistic work is only a pretext for becoming free and it may be that it is not completely possible in this world to have freedom. In art and in fiction, I can do what I can not in reality. It is a way to expand on the possibility of freedom.

There are fictionalised scenes in the film such as the huge explosion of the mines. As a multimedia artist but also a documentary director, do you find there is pressure to always present the truth?

Yes, people often expect a true story especially when you’re shooting in live action. By using animation it allows me to keep a distance and to assume the subjectivity of artist, after all, the truth is not fixed. Truth is so subjective and is always in the process of being transformed. 

489 Years is part of the International Competition 2: No Man’s Land programme.

Interview by Amelia Seely