Reel Asian Interview: Alice Kim, Director of Don’t Cry

Thanks to the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival (Reel Asian), I had the chance to talk to Alice Kim, a young Korean-Canadian filmmaker about her short, Don’t Cry, which is making its world premiere at Reel Asian later today. It’s an interesting short that follows a mother and daughter over the course of an evening in their dry cleaning store, and that will leave you thinking about a lot of things, including language, how we speak to and treat immigrants and the differences between first and second generation immigrants.

But let’s hear from Alice Kim about Don’t Cry and her influences as a filmmaker.

The Interview with Alice Kim

Hello, Can you introduce yourself and tell our readers what made you want to be a filmmaker?

Hello! My name is Alice Kim and I’m a Toronto-based filmmaker. When I was younger, I used to make all sorts of videos for school and for fun, but I never thought that becoming a filmmaker was an actual option. I originally went to university for media studies, but didn’t actually know what I wanted to do. I changed majors and studied film theory and it really taught me to think critically of what we can say through film and how we can say it. There are so many stories that have been told through film and television, but I wasn’t seeing anything I could relate to—so, I think sharing stories that represent diversity is what really made me want to become filmmaker.

And as a follow up question, can you tell us about your short film, Don’t Cry, which screens at Reel Asian?

Don’t Cry is about Mi-Kyoung, an immigrant mother, and her daughter Gina who run their own dry cleaning business. One night, Gina witnesses something happen to her mother in their own store and has to decide whether or not confront the issue.

Don’t Cry is your directorial debut, although you’ve worked as an assistant director on other films. What were the challenges in directing your first short?

As an assistant director, you’re wired to think about how to make the shoot efficient and go as smoothly as possible; it was really hard for me to turn that part of my brain off. In ways, those skills definitely helped me out while I was on set, but it was the first time I realized that I could really focus on the creative aspects and the actors’ performances. Also, it was challenging to have confidence because it’s natural for creatives to get into their own head and care way too much about what other people think. If I ever got into that thought spiral, I would remind myself, “this is my own way of expressing my own story”.

You’re also the screenwriter, what influenced the story/script? What was the inspiration for it?

The story/script was inspired by a collection of my own personal lived-experiences. Also, I used to have a really tense relationship with my mom and only until recently (I’ve grown up a little), I’ve started to develop a friendship with my mom. Through this, I have begun to realize the sacrifices that she made as an immigrant and a mother.

Don’t Cry shows some of the difficulties that immigrants can face, from rude behaviour to harassment. There was also a difference in how Mi-Kyoung and Gina reacted. What were you trying to portray through their reactions?

With Gina and Mi-Kyoung’s differing reactions, I wanted to show that there’s this communication gap about “talking things out” between generations. I really wanted to show through those scenes the old way of thinking vs. the new way (letting it slide vs. confrontation), but also how different factors influence each generation’s actions. There is a frustration that many children of immigrants experience when others negatively treat their parents. Eventually that frustration can result in anger within second generation-ers who take it out on their parents for “not fighting back”. On the flip side, it’s tough as an immigrant that owns a personal business because you really can’t afford to lose business and don’t want to draw attention to yourself/rock the boat.

As a follow up question, Don’t Cry showcases some of the effects language can have on our identity and sense of belonging – both good and bad. From what names we want to use to how we speak to others (or they speak to us). What did you want audiences to leave the film thinking about?

I tried to touch on a lot of different things, but there’s only so much that you can organically include within 11 minutes. I wanted to share my daily experiences and create something relatable for second generation-ers, but at the same time I wanted to show people outside our community what the many of us face in different degrees. Ultimately, I wanted people to gain some perspective on immigrant stories and how much immigrant mothers sacrifice for their children.

Time to switch subjects a bit. Which directors are your favorites and why? Who inspires you?

For someone who’s studied film and works in the industry, I actually don’t currently have a favourite director. I’m usually inspired by different work and artists—whether it’s film or not. But, I will say that in 2012, when I saw Ins Choi’s play, Kim’s Convenience, in my hometown, London, ON—I got this incredible rush of inspiration. It was the first time that I saw content that accurately reflected my life. And it was funny! And emotional! And it was relatable; I couldn’t believe how all the subtle nuances of being part of a Korean family in Canada were captured. It made me feel like I could share my experiences.

Finally, are you working on any new film or script at the moment?

I’m still working as an assistant director, but between jobs I’m currently writing a short that touches on female self defense (lots of fight scenes!).

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions!

Thank you for the interview! 🙂

Final Thoughts

You can catch Alice Kim’s short, Don’t Cry in Reel Asian’s Intimate Labours programme on Monday, November 13 (today!) at 1:00 pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 3, where you can watch it along with six other shorts. It’s an interesting short that will leave you thinking about how we treat others and how we react to that treatment. It will leave you with a lot to think about.

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday – this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it’s taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I’m the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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