The Sanggyedong Olympics + The 6 Day Struggle at the Myeongdong Cathedral

Sanggyedong Olympic001

The Sanggyedong Olympics

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’ in 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. In little under 30 minutes, the film offers a powerful account of the residents’ three-year long struggle. Kim Dong Won initially planned to stay for just one day when he went to film the site in 1985, after being asked by those from the neighbourhood to come and record their fight, but instead ended up living amongst 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.

The 6 Day Struggle at the Myeongdong Cathedral

From the evening of the 10th to the afternoon of 15th June 1987, hundreds of student protesters and ordinary citizens found themselves having to take refuge from riot police and staging a sit-in protest at the Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul. Located in the main shopping district in the centre of the city, the Myeongdong Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Seoul and a key symbol of Roman Catholicism in Korea. That evening marked the beginning of the June Democracy Movement, which took place across the country over the following 19 days. In the preceding months, a number of incidents began to build animosity between the Korean people and the government, notably the case of the student protester Park Jong-chul’s torture and subsequent death. However, it was President Chun Doo-hwan’s announcement of Roh Tae-woo as the next presidential candidate, largely perceived as handing Roh the presidency and obstructing the path to democracy, that finally triggered large-scale protests. The Myeongdong Cathedral sit-in protest ended on the 15th of June, after the participants, including the Seoul Student Federation and the Myeongdong Cathedral authorities, voted narrowly to end their protest. Despite this, the protest is considered as a significant event in the struggle for democracy, and provided inspiration for the mass-organised civil rights movement in Korea.

This film, made between 1996 and 1997, is an attempt to reflect on and make collective sense of the course of events that took place across those six days in Myeongdong Cathedral. It weaves its narrative through a mixture of film footage and newsreel, along with interviews with protestors reflecting on the events more than a decade after the event. Film footage and eye witness accounts reveal the development of the protest, the hopes and the disagreements of the protesters, as well as the political background to the event. Above all, the film focuses on the sudden dispersal of this very symbolic protest in Myeongdong, a protest which captured attention not only in Korea, but across the entire world.

This screening will be followed by a Drinks Reception. A selection of drinks including Korean soju will be served.

Birkbeck Cinema, 11 Aug 2018 2:30 pm

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