Side by Side: South Korea

Filming in KoreaBy June 2013, the concept for Side by Side had taken shape. We knew we wanted to explore the personal stories of those who had been homeless children in South Korea from the 1950s forward. Some of these children had been adopted to homes far away, first to the U.S. and later to Europe, Australia, South America, and elsewhere. Other children were not adopted and stayed to live their lives in Korea.

There are books and films and dissertations about the Korean adoption experience. But there is virtually nothing about the unadopted, and we believed they were the key to a viable film. Most of those who grew up in Korea without families live somewhat in the shadows, due to a sense of shame or fear of being ostracized. Their employers, friends, even their families may not know their past. There are no directories of names to search, only informal networks among those who spent childhoods together.

Our greatest challenge would be finding unadopted Koreans willing to tell their stories. For three months, our local contacts gathered names, made phone calls, and patiently explained what we were trying to do. Most said no, but thirteen agreed.

We quickly contacted our Korean producer. We got a crash course in working without a net from our Denver production friends and secured an EyeDirect (which proved invaluable for our camera-shy subjects). Then, in September, we headed back to Seoul carrying only a camera, audio, and the EyeDirect. Everything else we would need to rent in Korea.

As fate would have it, we arrived in Seoul just as the entire country was going on holiday. Chuseok is a 3-day thanksgiving celebration when businesses shutter and the country returns, en masse, to their hometowns. With little else to do, we spent those first days on foot, discovering quiet neighborhoods and lush parks all across the city. At night, we checked and rechecked equipment. Jet lag was gone when our production team returned but time was growing short, and our schedule was starting to get complicated.

This is what our shooting schedule looked like. On Day 8, we were flying home.

  • Day 1 — Seoul, 1 interview, 22 years old.
  • Day 2 — Mokpo, 2 interviews, 32 and 44 years old, 500 miles round trip.
  • Day 3 — Seoul, 2 interviews, 62 and 68 years old
  • Day 4 — Gimcheon, 3 interviews, 18 and 20 years old, 250 miles round trip.
  • Day 5 — Seoul, 2 interviews, 60 years old.
  • Day 6 — Seoul, 2 interviews, 51 and 63 years old.
  • Day 7 — Seoul, 1 interview, 58 years old.

Our Korean crew included our bilingual producer, a grip, and an interpreter. Very little English was spoken among our subjects so all interviews were conducted in Korean. The interpreter was there for Glenn and me, to give us a glimpse into each person’s story as they spoke.

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