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NAMUR 2019

Yoon Sung-A • Director of Overseas

"Exile, a feeling of loss: these were things which I was able to understand"


- Cinergie met with the director Yoon Sung-A to talk about her documentary Overseas, which has just screened at the Namur International French-Language Film Festival

Yoon Sung-A • Director of Overseas

Overseas [+see also:
film review
interview: Yoon Sung-A
film profile
, the latest feature film by Yoon Sung-A, has just screened in the Place au doc belge! section of the Namur International French-Language Film Festival (FIFF) following its debut in Locarno’s Filmmakers of the Present line-up. The film takes us on a journey, and the director does too. Cinergie met with Sung-A Yoon in Brussels, between two festivals, so as to chat about her work.

Cinergie: Why did you choose this particular subject?
Yoon Sung-A:
What I was interested in was talking about a female experience of migration, about domestic work and about our globalised world. Domestic work is a totally invisible profession. It’s an extremely gendered profession, primarily carried out by women.

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While I was reading a book by Asuncion Fresnoza-Flot, a Philippine sociologist, I discovered that the Philippine government institutionalised this form of migration by sending women to work abroad on two-year contracts, in a wholly legal fashion. I was aware of undocumented female workers hailing from other countries such as the Ivory Coast or Haiti, but I discovered that it was the government that organised this system in the Philippines. That struck me and I dug deeper. That’s how the film came about.

What about your meeting with the women?
When I arrived in the Philippines, there was this group of women who were getting ready to leave. They hadn’t been made aware of my presence; it was a surprise for them. Of course, we asked them if they were happy to be filmed, but the meeting could quite easily never have taken place. It was potluck: we were making a documentary. I chose the place, but not the characters, so it was all very hit-or-miss. I got to know them and, as they actually embraced the film 100%. They were very motivated, and, at the same time, I felt that they should be given time to talk, to “play”. It was as if it was some kind of need that they had, and they went for it immediately.

They seemed extremely happy to share all that with us. Also, little by little, they understood the type of film that I was looking to make. They could see I wasn’t in the market for sensationalism. They were very surprising and so natural in front of the camera. They understood the film; it was a very powerful experience.

How did this experience resonate with you?
Strangely, when I made the film, I also found there were links with my own story. Before Overseas, I’d made a feature-length documentary Full of Missing Links, which focused on the search for my father in South Korea, whom I hadn’t seen for 25 years. I realised that one of the deepest reasons for my making this film was that I felt like I understood these women who leave their children, who feel loss at being torn away from their country and their cultural ties. That was one of my driving forces. Exile, the separation of families, a feeling of loss: these were things which I was able to understand, and I felt a great deal of empathy for these women.

Can the situation of these women change?
I don’t know if these women are stronger now, but I tell myself that the simple fact that they were able to take part in an experience where they felt that they were being listened to, given a platform, might have changed something for some of them. We sent them the film; they’ve seen it. They’re very proud, today, to see that the film is being shown. When I send them photos of packed-out auditoriums or press articles stating that they were filmed in all their dignity, that they’re strong willed, that they’re extraordinary, it makes them very happy. I don’t think films change the face of the world, but I tell myself that if my film can change the way that people look at these women - even if only very slightly - then it will have served a purpose. In Locarno, a woman approached me at the end of a screening, she burst into tears right in front of me. I thought that if I could provoke this type of reaction in people, then maybe the film might bring about the tiniest of changes, and that alone is huge for me as a director.

(Read the full interview in French here.)

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(Translated from French)

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