I met with Jin Mo Young, director of the Korean documentary, My Love, Don’t Cross That River (님아, 그 강을 건너지 마오) at the Hot Docs International Film Festival in Toronto. Keep reading for what he had to say.
Hot Docs Interview: Jin Mo Young
Can you briefly introduce yourself and My Love, Don’t Cross That River.
I am a documentary filmmaker from Korea. I have worked at broadcast since 1997 and made a film My Love, Don’t Cross That River last year. I have been working as an independent producer for 19 years now.
This film is about an old couple from a mountainous village in Korea. They are about 100 years old, but have lived together for 76 years. In the film, they will tell us about the universal concept of love and marriage. The couple gracefully demonstrates the universal concept of conjugal love.
You worked in television in Korea before making My Love, Don’t Cross That River as your first full-length documentary. How was making a documentary different from television?
Broadcast has to be explanatory and must be kind in narration because viewers do not pay great attention when watching TV, whereas film is seen through a projector in a dark room with great amount of concentration which allows us and the viewers to communicate even when we condense or omit information. I also find TV is more focused on giving information to its viewers, while film is more capable of bringing an emotional reaction from its viewers.
Speaking of television, the elderly couple had been introduced through a TV show prior to the film. Why did you choose to make a full-length documentary about them?
I thought these people were more important than just to be covered only once. Love is a great thing and I thought they could talk so much more about the love. In Korea I did not want to see this story just via TV, but expand the medium to film. By doing that, I wanted to show this wonderful story not only to the domestic audience but also to the audience abroad. Hence, my objective was two-fold: use film as a medium and globalize it.
My Love, Don’t Cross That River is a very personal documentary about 98 year old Jo Byeong Nam and 89 year old Kang Gye Yeol and their 76 years of marriage. What were some of the challenges you faced in making it? What did you learn from this project?
I didn’t encounter any kind of huge challenges when filming their stories. Personal story takes more emotional thinking than rational thinking, so the issue is whether they would let me in to their personal space. That’s why during the shooting I didn’t bring any assistant, so that I can build intimacy with the couple by spending time together at their house. Because of that intimacy, I was able to hear their life stories, experience, their thoughts about love, and even their sad memories.
How long did it take you to plan and film it?
Making of this film took 2 years and half. The shooting itself took 15 months, but the whole process, from the planning stage to putting the film on screen, took 2 years and half. The shooting was 15 months, so it took me a year for post-production. We started in August 2012 and finished shooting in November 2013.
What was the most memorable thing that happened during the filming of My Love, Don’t Cross That River? Did any other memorable things happen during the shoot?
I will say the moment when the grandma burns the clothes for their dead children. This scene tells the primary message of the whole film. She never forgets her children even after they died, when she asks her deceased husband to give the clothing to the kids in heaven. Love as we think, ends right away by death. But Grandma shows that love does not end like that and continues even after you get sick and die. She showed us that love can never end.
A difference between human and animals is that humans sometimes do things that are not useful, but are ritualistic and symbolic. The clothes will never be worn, but she burns them to send it to their kids who already passed away. The grandma thus injected a strong force into this film.
What were you trying to portray in My Love, Don’t Cross That River? Specifically, how did you want the audience to react to it when they watched it?
The story I have told in the film is nothing big (unsophisticated). It is not about a famous people nor has spectacle. But I want to show the audience what love between a man and a woman is like. So I don’t want to make a big message also because you can never learn big things just by watching one film. What I wanted from my audience was for them to realize they should take care of their spouse, or people around them.
Were there any other takeaways you wanted the audience to see?
We should think about marriage (conjugal love) more seriously. Marriage may seem like just two people living together. However, when you look closely, if you calculate how much time you would spend with the partner in your whole life from birth to death, you and your spouse spend significant amount of time together. So it’s not just spending time together, but living a LIFE together.
A life with no love can be unfortunate and unmeaningful. That’s what I think. So, loving and living with someone else is as important to our life as human rights. That’s why we should think and contemplate more about love and marriage, and I hope this couple will help you with that.
My Love, Don’t Cross That River is a sweet, poignant, and ultimately sad (though romantic) documentary that tugs at the viewers emotions. What effect did filming it have on you?
Audience only watch things that are put on screen and filmmakers including myself go through the whole process of making them. The scenes that did not make to the screen thus still stays in my heart. Filming this story was very meaningful and thankful moment of my life. I think the year and 3 months that I spent with the couple was an opportunity for me to watch and think about the love in marriage. I am not the nicest person than anyone else, but after seeing them, I resolved to please people around myself. So filming this movie was a gift for myself.
What are you working on at the moment? Any new projects?
Last year, I started my new project while I was working on the post-production for My Love Don’t Cross That River. It’s called THE STRANGER, it’s about a North Korean defector who is trying to adapt to a new life in South Korea with his family. South Korean society is hard. It’s a harsh society to live for the strangers. By making this film, I wanted to draw a portrait of Korean Society and the world more broadly. Just like the old couple in my film, the man that I am filming right now too is a micro-portrait of the society that we live in. Hence, I am still working on my project on this diver who is a North Korean defector.
I’d like to thank director Jin Mo Young for taking the time before the first screening of his documentary at Hot Docs to answer our questions. And a huge thanks to Randy Hanbyul Lee for translating the interview, it was much appreciated!
As you’ll see in my review (published later today), My Love, Don’t Cross That River is a sweet, poignant film about a 76 year old marriage where the love is still strong (and at times, playful). It will make you smile and cry, and think about love. Check it out at Hot Docs, it has two more screenings!
- Monday, April 27 at 4:00 pm
- Sunday, May 3 at 8:45 pm