Thursday, July 12, 2012

Interview: "ExamiNation" with Judy Suh

As part of our International Short Film Showcase, we put the spotlight on the directors whose films make up our program to learn more about themselves and their films. For more information about our shorts program, visit our website.

Judy Suh's short documentary ExamiNation reveals a striking cultural phenomenon in South Korea surrounding the college entrance exam, Sooneung. It follows a day in the life of one student, Bitna, who as been preparing for the grand exam for years. The documentary sheds light on how the exam influences an individual as well as a whole nation. ExamiNation will screen as part of the SCHOOL DAYS section of the International Short Film Showcase.

The film has also received several prizes including the Highest Achievement Award at the Northwestern University Film Festival in 2011, the People's Choice Award at the Expo Film Festival in Northwestern University as well as Best Short Documentary Award at Best Shorts Competition.

Read on for a short interview with director Judy Suh and her short doco ExamiNation.

How did you get into the film industry?
I am currently an undergraduate film student at Northwestern University. I began making short films in middle school, while I attended an “alternative” middle school in South Korea. Since then, I have continued making films in a variety of genres and styles.

What or who inspires you as an artist?
Michel Gondry’s work, especially Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, inspires me. His quirkiness and creative brilliance comes through his filmmaking style. I appreciate a lot of his hands-on work that does not rely on post-production effects. I also aspire to be a director that tries and experiments with new ways of filmmaking and doing a lot of hands-on work. William Kentridge is also a great inspiration for me. His work is very wide ranging in terms of media, while still having amazing thematic and aesthetic consistency. His genius is evident in his bold attempt at merging media, and his work truly inspires me to follow his steps in multimedia work.

Can you tell us more about ExamiNation?
I began this film with the desire to share the Korean side of my cultural background, as a Korean American filmmaker. When I think about a prominent aspect of Korean culture, I cannot help but first think of the education fervor. But this topic was wide-ranging and deeply rooted in Korea’s history and society, so the cultural phenomena related to education extends far beyond the college entrance exam Sooneung. I had to find a way to narrow the topic but extract this core issue into this film. My solution was to tackle this topic through a very personal approach to a student experiencing the struggles on a daily basis. My goal was never to say that the radical high school preparation for Sooneung is right or wrong, but to objectively present the facts, and then challenge the audience to interpret this situation for themselves and consider it. The film is meant not to present all the information one needs to understand the phenomena, but to spark an interest in the audience in this topic.

Are you excited to have an Australian Premiere at KOFFIA?

What's next for you? 
I am preparing to make a senior thesis film in the coming fall. The film is a short fictional narrative film with strong visuals and a motif of photography. I am also hoping to get more involved with theatrical shows this summer and later in the academic year.

Watch the trailer of ExamiNation

Judy's Portfolio blog:
Twitter @judysuh2

Stay up-to-date for more interviews and features on the films and directors featuring in this year's KOFFIA International Short Film Showcase!

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