Islands / I Lands—Cinemas in Exile

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
Maria Rosalie Zerrudo

Supported by: Fukutake Foundation for the Promotion of Regional Culture

Opening Uchikui/Pojagi

Uchikui/pojagi means furoshiki (wrapping cloth) and is used to mean the “wrapping of hearts” in Yaeyama (Okinawa) and Korea. The “Islands/I Lands” program can be seen as an uchikui/pojagi that was woven of brilliant threads from visible/invisible encounters and networks, and it will soon make its debut.

I was first inspired to put together this program when I was working on the YIDFF 2003 Okinawa program. The journey I took in considering Okinawan films proved to be an intensely stimulating endeavor, tracing the poetics and politics of the gaze. At the same time, I was confronted by the reality of the struggle there and the fact that, despite the overwhelming number of films set in or about Okinawa, there were strikingly few by directors living in Okinawa. Geopolitically “inconvenient” and “isolated,” islands face a unique set of challenges: the severity of observing the history of colonization and war, along with contemporary forms of political violence; and a daunting environment in which to realize visual expression. The expressive impulse, driven by the political and cultural situation, is often transitory and unable to support sustained production.

Attempting to respond to these dilemmas, which extend far beyond Okinawa, I began searching for sea routes/circuits that weave through the interactions between cinema and islands. Directors, driven from the island they were born on, who have no, or can have no island, making their own territory (“I lands”) through their works. Making films on islands/“I” lands, “I” lands that result in the creation of films, creating islands of filmmaking, and here and there making that “I” land known as a film.

Focusing on Asia, I received inspiration from two events. One was the KAPWA conference in Iloilo, Philippines in 2008. Folk musicians, dancers, painters, filmmakers, and shamans from within and outside of the Philippines mixed, each in their own way and through their own words and bodies, puzzling over and working out with representatives of living traditions and scholars how the indigenous knowledge of the Philippines can be sustained in the age of globalization. One encounter born from this conference was with Maria Rosalie Zerrudo, who began an artist residency in Yamagata in August 2009.

The other event was a series of workshops called “Asia, Politics, Art,” held in Okinawa as part of a collaborative research project of Seikei University’s Center for Asian and Pacific Studies. The presentations and the responses to them exposed me to the works of Kum Soni, Jane Jin Kaisen, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.

In addition, elsewhere in Asia, the benefits of the digital video format have begun to make possible experiments designed to fit local styles of screening and film productions that differ from existing models; these trials are a warm blast blowing from that part of the world. We delight in standing at the point where film culture and digital culture overlap. Further, this program includes Asian dance and performance art, both live and in films, highlighting the close connection between image and representation, body and art.

In the dazzling interactions between islands and cinema, we can perhaps see that one gift of the documentary is to link and reconstruct loss, traces of history, or things with no form. Because now is a time when cinematic expression is spreading to a huge diversity of people, I cannot conceal my hope that the artists of Islands/I Lands will continue their exploration of documentary filmmaking. I find resonance in Cha’s words: “the wisdom of isolation, of the individual outlawed human being.”

In working on this program, I shared warm exchanges and stimulating time with many people who helped me think about Islands/I Lands with their creative stories and advice. I would like to take this opportunity to express my warmest gratitude. Thank you to the audience for helping to draw a map of the “I Lands” together.

Hama Haruka