The Sanggyedong Olympics

상계동 올림픽

Lkff2018 Doc Fortnight Sanggyedong Olympics 01
Film info

Director: Kim Dong-won
Film genre: Documentary
27 mins, 1988
Distributed by Cinema Dal

1988 was the year of the Seoul Olympics, the very first high-profile international event to ever be held in South Korea. Under the auspices of preparing for the event, the government planned and pursued ‘redevelopment’ projects in 50 selected areas of the capital. Sanggyedong, a neighbourhood located on the Northeastern outskirts of Seoul, and home to more than 1,500 families, was one such area. In 1986 forced demolition began on a plot where 160 families still resided. The community of residents resisted, urging they be given the time to find alternative housing prior to the demolition; in the process several people were harassed, arrested, and four local residents died. Following their eviction from Sanggyedong, their human rights continued to be violated due to their failure to follow “legitimate procedure” through their attempts to rebuild their homes elsewhere. They did not fit in with the image of South Korea the government wanted to project to the outside world. The camera records the unethical treatment handed down to the people of Sanggyedong and their continuing strife after they were displaced to Myeongdong and Bucheon. The film allows us to get a glimpse of  the courage of these individuals in the face of such trials, and their unwillingness to give up on their struggle against the systematic oppression they faced simply for wanting to rebuild their homes, and re-establish their community.

The film is credited as “Produced by the Sanggye-dong Community”, and narrated by one of the residents themselves, from the point of view of the community. (The film serves and represents their voices.) In less than 30 minutes, the film offers a powerful account of the residents’ three-year long struggle. Kim Dongwon initially went to film the site in 1985, after being asked by those from the neighbourhood to come just for one day to record their struggle, but he instead ended up living with them as part of the community for over three years. As such, the film demonstrates how the process of documentary filmmaking can become an integral part of the lives of both the subject and the filmmaker, and how filmmaking as a process has the power to change the lives of those involved.