Fellowship winner to film on Korean island

By Cathi Choi

This summer, Austin Park ’09 will try to understand the stories of octopus fisherman Kim Sung-do and his wife Kim Shin-yeol, and capture them on film. Sung-do and Shin-yeol are the only two permanent residents of Dokdo, a series of islets between Korea and Japan. Park won the Junior Summer Fellowship award with his proposal to tell their story through a film documentary.

Dokdo is defined by two main islets, which are two large rocks. Sung-do and Shin-yeol live on these rocks, caught in a territorial dispute between the two countries. The territory technically belongs to Korea, and Sung-do and Shin-yeol are fervent Korean patriots who believe in Korea’s territorial claim.

In order to gain access to the island, Park had to take many meetings with Korean government officials.

When Park found out that Dokdo only had two residents, Park was immediately intrigued by the island’s story.

“I want to observe this life because it’s fascinating that these two people could live there,” Park said. “They’re completely isolated, miles from any other people and they’ve been living like this for 40 years. There’s something there I don’t think the world has seen, really.”

Several lighthouse maintenance workers and the South Korea coast guard work on the island, but the Sung-do and Shin-yeol are the only permanent residents who live on Dokdo year-round.

Other than Dokdo, Park will explore other places in Korea during his first visit to the country: Seoul, Pohang and Ulleung-Do, the nearest major island to Dokdo.

He will also be spending a week in Japan, travelling to Osaka, Kyoto and then to the west coast, namely Shimane Prefecture. He might also visit the Oki Islands, the closest Japanese territory to Dokdo.

He said he wants to spend some time in Japan to get the other side of the territorial dispute. He is unsure what kind of documentary he will make, and said there were two main ways he could go with it.

The movie could focus on Sung-do and Shin-yeol and become what Park describes as “a character study, a study of their life,” with the territorial dispute as a lofty backdrop. If, however, he feels this topi is not strong enough he’ll work more material into their story.

“Maybe I’ll work in more of a street by street kind of thing, interviewing people in Japan and Korea, drawing a bigger picture,” Park said.

Ultimately though, Park wants to refrain from making any major decisions about his documentary’s direction until he gets there.

“It’s hard for me to tell you what my message is or what I’m trying to get at because I struggled with that. I thought I had to have something like that, but in the end, I’m not going to impose a message and then take them and put them into it,” Park said. “I want to go there and figure out what it is, and then from there, impose myself, by finding what they are, what I think they are, how they relate to me, and how they relate to a wider audience.”