S Korean actress slams Berlin film fest for inviting director who abused her

S Korean actress slams Berlin film fest for inviting director who abused her
PHOTO: AFP

A Korean actress has expressed her disappointment with the Berlin International Film Festival organizers for their inviting filmmaker Kim Ki-duk to the event while championing the values of the global #MeToo movement.

The same actress, who wishes to remain anonymous, accused the prize-winning filmmaker of physically and sexually abusing her during the filming of "Moebius" in 2013.

Kim was fined 5 million won ($4,600) in December on the physical assault charge. Other charges were dismissed due to lack of evidence. The accuser took the case to appeals court, but was denied in January.

"We will apply for adjudication in February (for the prosecution's nonindictment), but the possibility of acceptance is less than 5 per cent, looking at the court's history," lawyer Ahn Ji-hee, who represents the actress, said. "But if not accepted as a criminal suit, the case could continue through a civil suit."

While the controversy has not died down, director Kim's latest work "Human, Space, Time and Human" was invited to screen in the Berlin International Film Festival's Panorama Special, a noncompetition section.

The festival's director Dieter Kosslick announced on Feb. 6 that certain productions had been disqualified from participation on connection with credible sexual-assault allegations. Kim's work was not included on the list of cancellations.

The actress was taken aback by the international film showcase's decision. "When people go through exceptionally surprising events, they are stunned. That is how I feel," the actress told the Korea Herald in a phone interview. "I was devastated by the news."

In August the actress revealed that Kim struck her and forced her into unscripted sex scenes. She added that she had to withstand sexual comments from Kim during the shoot.

After four years of hesitation, the actress decided to bring the charges forward.

Many questioned why it took her four years, but the actress explained that raising the issue was not easy.

"No one helped me. At the time of the incident, those who were known for speaking up about social issues turned their backs on me," she said. "Not many people in the film industry have offered me a helping hand. Most kept their silence."

Despite being "hurt" by the renowned film festival's decision, the actress finds it hard to make a complaint against it.

"For an individual to inquire about the matter is not easy. I do not even know where to file a complaint," she said. "My defence counsel is busy dealing with the domestic issues already."

Kosslick told the Korea Herald that the film fest organizers were aware that Kim had been convicted and fined for his actions. But the filmmaker's latest work is still set to be screened five times at the festival, from Saturday to Feb. 23.

"The actress is now publicly reiterating the accusations from 2013. Berlinale Panorama has decided to eschew prejudgment," Kosslick said in an email interview. "However, the Berlinale condemns all kinds of violence on set -- be it of sexual or other origin."

The head curator of the Panorama section, Paz Lazaro, said via email, "We decided not to accept quick answers to complicated questions, and we want to create a space for open dialogue -- in the cinema and beyond."

She added that Kim Ki-Duk has agreed to participate in "any debate that may go beyond the film itself," while attending the film fest.

Kim is also a jury member for the Asian Brilliant Stars awards, a separate awards ceremony to promote Asian films. The ceremony, sponsored by Berlin International Film Festival, is to take place in Berlin on Feb. 21.

The actress argues that the organizers of the highly acclaimed festival must be fully aware of the situation.

"Because I am an Asian and an unknown actress, the festival is ignoring the problem," the actress said. "The issue was not even properly discussed at the festival. It is a question of morality."

After several reports criticising the film festival's hypocrisy, the organizers announced they would seek more information on the matter, contacting the related distributor and the Korean Film Council (KOFIC).

KOFIC, a government-funded organisation, told the Korea Herald that the festival had contacted it Friday and inquired about the seriousness of the issue and the facts of the case. It plans to prepare an answer after discussions.

The organisation, however, stressed that it is not obliged to comment on the matter. "Whatever opinion or stance, it should be issued by Berlin. We do not have anything to say," an official in charge of the matter at KOFIC said.

Filmmaker Kim has argued that the actions in questions were conducted "from a director's stance." He said in August in an official statement that what he did was to rile the emotion of the actress, "heightening the realism of the film." He has refused to comment further since.

"Professionals know that it was not directing but an assault. It's very obvious," the actress said. "Besides, Kim is a filmmaker, not an acting instructor. The two are very different concepts. He wasn't in a place to teach me how to act."

The actress was replaced and afterward found it difficult to continue her career. The famed filmmaker accused her of refusing to shoot, leaving her with a bad reputation in the tight-knit film industry.

"Kim's actions were wrong. But how he reacted to his own faults were worse," the actress said. "All I ever wanted was a sincere apology, but I have not received it yet."

The unnamed actress has refused to reveal her identity to the public. While some point out that she might be better received if she spoke publicly, the victim remains unsure and worries about her uncertain future.

"I am concerned about being labelled as a 'Kim Ki-duk actress,'" she said. "I want to come forward. But some might take me as an unknown actress who tried to make her name using the director's fame."

The actress has taken a few steps forward to share her story. She started to speak through her defence counsel last summer. In December, she held a press conference behind a white screen. Lately, she has been doing interviews with the press.

She has recently been encouraged by prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun, who raised sexual harassment allegations against her former supervisor. The prosecutor went on a live TV show to speak up about being a victim of sexual harassment.

Putting her case in a larger perspective, the actress argues that the movie industry in Korea should change for the better. "The #MeToo campaign is not so active in Korea. People in the industry, who are well known, should stand up first and make a difference," she said.

"Through coming forward, I have changed, thinking that this has to be done for the public good," the actress said, highlighting that she is now trying to put her personal feelings aside. "This is not something new. It has been happening in every industry of our society. It's a power issue, rather than a gender one."

 

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