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Reflective Essay on ‘The Way We Wait’ 

Written by Ji-Yoon Park, Dec 2020


While carrying out several Q&A sessions in film festivals, I was often asked about the process of making this film. Reflecting on the process was not as easy as I thought because many things were improvised by responding to what was happening on the site, and the process of making the film was part of this product(film) as well.  Furthermore, as this documentary was based on my family’s and my personal stories, within each moment, I needed to consider the extent of the story that I could share publicly.

After the Q&A sessions, I began to undergo a new realisation for the meaning of the film. The Q&A sessions were a process in which I was able to re-discover the meanings that I couldn’t recognise before. The final film is different from my starting point, but the essence and direction that I had unconsciously sought were surprisingly pretty much the same. With bittersweet thoughts, and only a few screenings left this year for the first short documentary film that I dedicated a lot of myself to, I decided to refresh my memories and leave a piece of writing.

Making documentary - a process full of constant uncertainty

I’ve been steadily interested in temporality, impermanence and capturing transience. That’s why I devised the sandcastle sequence, which significantly functions as a structure and a visual motif for this film, but many other things except for that were improvised. I was responding to what was happening in my life by documenting these events: the conversation with my mother in the hospital where my maternal grandmother was, filming my grandmother’s house where no one will live soon, and meeting a fortune teller. When filming the process of making the sand sculpture on the beach where the waves crashed, no one could know the result of the filming as well. Through the process of editing, I could find the ‘subconscious intentions’ that I kept searching for and was questioning unintentionally.

This film talks about the uncertainty of life - how incomplete, unstable and unforeseeable it is. The film doesn’t try to forcefully fit life into completeness or assurance. Instead, this film squarely observes the imperfectness of life. Sometimes it just lets time pass by as it is. In the relationships between my mom, grandma and myself, there are still many things that we do not know about each other. The sandcastle which managed to be completed at the end is also on the verge of collapse. Nevertheless, the conversations between us three are continued and the sandcastle is continuously made even when the waves lap. The process of making this film was also full of uncertain elements. Plans sometimes failed or were often changed. However, by accepting this uncertainty and by following the events within situations with the camera, I was able to spot new opportunities.

Beyond ‘Personal Documentary’

This film might be a very personal documentary, but that’s why I wanted this film not to go too deeply into personal stories. Even though it’s intimate and personal, I felt that it should be a universal story at the same time so that everyone can empathise with it and relate themselves as if it’s their own story, and this is why I tried to put appropriate emotional distance into the film. As a result, my voice-over narration was involved as dryly and minimally as possible. When filming my grandmother and mother in the hospital, I tried to film from far away, or as if I was hiding and observing the scene, like the perspective of a third party or a stranger. When I filmed my grandmother in the hospital, I tried my best not to objectify her. Actually, I often questioned about why I needed to film her while she was in a vulnerable position, and that’s why there’s less than three shots which presents my grandmother’s face explicitly.

“Why should other people care about my personal story? Why should others take their time to watch my film?” This was one of the most vital questions that I asked myself while editing. When watching films, audiences not only want to see the protagonists’ story but also themselves and their own lives. Thus, films should satisfy such preferences of the audience. In this film, the meanings of many elements are left open, and I think the meanings can be differently received depending on one’s own experiences.

The sandcastle which is complete at the end of the film can also be understood in different ways. Each of us are making our own sandcastles respectively, in our own places. I hope this ‘personal’ documentary is not only personal to me but also to the individual audiences. The way I felt about this film also changed according to the different phases of the production process of this film, including before making the film, during the production, after completion of the film, and when the screening of the film was complete. I think the meaning will also change over time, when I watch the film again in the future. I can’t predict how it will change at all, but I’m interested to see how it will change.

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This film was introduced as part of the short programme 'Between Generations' at the Open City Documentary Festival where the film was premiered. I thought that the title of the programme suited very well with this film because the film deals with ‘large difference in time within generations’.  At the DMZ International Documentary Film Festival, I was asked why I put the dialogue with the fortune teller at the beginning of the film. The fortune teller talks about what will happen after around 50 years to the director. I intentionally took away the specific details of the dialogue, but there seems to be an unfathomable distance in what she says. In addition, several records of the past from approximately 30 years ago also appear, such as photographs in which a very young me is making eye contact with my grandma, which I can’t even remember. By connecting the distant future and the distant past, relying on the vastness between time, I tried to overcome the sense of loss or uncertainty from the present. This film is about upcoming loss, but it’s also about hope. Even though the sense of loss is always with us, by observing it, I wanted to share that life is not that futile or empty. 

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