Recent graduate Alex Junho Kim is an aspiring filmmaker who was awarded 2012 Student Filmmaker of the Year by Duke’s Program in Arts of the Moving Image. Kim spoke with Recess’ Dan Fishman to discuss Stan Brakhage, filmmaking opportunities at Duke and Kim’s dream project.
R: At what point did you know you wanted to make films?
AJK: A little more than a year ago, David Gatten, [Visiting Professor and Distinguished Filmmaker in Residence in the Program in the Arts of the Moving Image], gave an assignment to my Intro to AMI class. The assignment was to “get lost” and write about that experience for 72 minutes—the minimum length of a feature-length film. A few weeks later Gatten asked us to translate that piece of writing into images and, finally, to translate those images into a film. To make the film we used paint, paper and water, rubbing off the pulp of the paper to transfer ink onto the 16mm film. I remember spending two days up all night working constantly, and I fell in love with the feeling of making films with my hands.
R: You’ve made many films over the course of your Duke career. Is there one you are most proud of?
AJK: That’s hard to say. I think I’m most proud of my 16mm stuff. The most well-developed piece, “Cape Fear,” is the one I made for my capstone. The film is a triptych of films about memory. The first one used a lot of rayograms displaying shattered glass across stone and I created these layers of obstruction as a way of addressing the idea that memories are fallible. You don’t always recall memories in a way that is faithful to the actual event. They are always distorted. “Cape Fear” worked with particular aspects of memory: what it looks like, sounds like. This one incorporates sound, and I hadn’t done that yet. I feel like it is my most mature piece.
R: Do you have a dream film? A film you would make if you had all of the money in the world?
AJK: I do, actually. It’s about language. Or rather, it’s about communication—the connections between people. That might sound cliché or cheesy. But I have sort of a treatment for the film. I want to think about how language is used in more popular and mainstream cinema and distort it in some way. In my dream film, lots of people speak all sorts of languages. Throughout the film you experience the day in the life of one person. There are no subtitles. Subtitles privilege the viewer. In my film, there are subtitles when the character speaking is understood. And only then. The idea came from a few different areas of my life. My own mother lives in America but she doesn’t speak English very well—she speaks somewhere around a kindergarten level. She lives in a Korean community. Her struggle through daily life is that she doesn’t understand what is being said. I don’t think it’s an uncommon experience.
R: What advice would you give to incoming students who want to make films?
AJK: I suppose the biggest thing for me was having an open mind. Duke has done a wonderful job of starting to push experimental filmmaking, and that has been really good. Of course, most of the people in AMI are not necessarily into experimental film. Even outside of experimental film there’s so much to learn. Even for me. When I say I’m an experimental filmmaker I feel like I’m locking myself into a genre. Film should be wide open. Everyone should explore different types.
R: Any ideas about how you’re going to continue filmmaking in the future?
AJK: I’m working with a film production group in downtown Durham called Growler Visual Media. It’s very small—three of us basically. It’s the kind of work you would expect. They mostly work on narrative films. That’s not what I want to do personally, but it’s a good way to get my chops up—to be in the practice of filmmaking. One needs to be constantly in the practice of working with film to be a filmmaker. It must always be in your mind. Filmmaker Stan Brakhage always had a piece of 16mm film in his pocket. Some of us pull out a book during small pieces of free time… Brakhage would pull out the film and start scratching on it. He made film part of his every waking moment. He’s a wonderful example for me.
R: Any lingering thoughts?
AJK: I’m really excited about Duke’s filmmaking program and the new MFA program. [New AMI faculty member] Bill Brown is really exciting. He’s pioneering certain modes of filmmaking—as had Gatten. And [AMI Associate Director] Josh Gibson—that he’s still here and still invested, it’s wonderful. Many professors here put the AMI department ahead of themselves. They’re masters sacrificing their own time to teach us when they could be making films. It has been a very humbling experience.