Sunday, May 5, 2019

[INTERVIEW] First Philippines film festival in Seoul to tackle 'migration'

To celebrate the 70th anniversary of diplomacy between South Korea and the Philippines this year, Nash Ang has been busily organizing cultural get-togethers in Korea, including Korea's first Filipino film festival. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

Since the Philippines sent some 1,500 soldiers to South Korea to help the country and allied nations fight the North ― which was backed by China and the Soviet Union ― during the Korean War, the event has stood as a symbol of the two countries' diplomacy. This year, they celebrate the 70th anniversary of bilateral ties.

While commemoration of the diplomatic landmark has been quiet in Korea so far, a Filipino filmmaker in Seoul is working to turn the tide of awareness with a venture he hopes will go a long way.

Nash Ang, a Korea National University of Arts (K-Arts) student in a master's program of filmmaking-directing, is planning Korea's first Philippines film festival. The plan, "Korea Pinoy Film Festival," has resulted in partnership agreements with the Filipino Embassy in Seoul and the city's northern Seongbuk district that will make available its cozy independent cinema for the event.

The event on Sept. 27-29 was originally titled "Pinoy Seoul Film Festival 2019 by Pinoy Artists in Korea." Pinoy Seoul is an online Filipino community in Korea that Ang established in 2017 and which he finances. The festival involves Filipino artists in Korea, including Ang, who got together after Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte made a state visit to Seoul in June 2018.

The film festival, under the theme "migration," also marks the 100th year of the Filipino cinema industry, with the nation known as an early adopter of cinema in Asia.

"The selected films will focus not only on migration, but will also be an eye-opener to create better immigration policies," Ang's festival proposal to Seongbuk District Office last March reads.

"With films presented and panel discussions with people who experienced maltreatment, deportation and their ramifications, we hope to explore perspectives that will challenge 'expert' thinking and current migration policies."

The Arirang Cine Center in Donam-dong area in Seoul's Seongbuk district will host the first Philippines film festival, co-organized by Nash Ang and the Philippines Embassy. Courtesy of Arirang Cine Center

Explaining why the festival chose the district, Ang told The Korea Times: "Seongbuk district has great access to the Daehangno entertainment area, a popular meeting spot for Filipinos that has a weekly Hyehwa flea market.

"September is strategically good because the Busan International Film Festival will open in October and our festival can begin right before that."

The festival is looking to open at the Arirang Cine Center in the district's Donam-dong area. The facility has three cinemas, with one reserved for independent films. Boo Sung-iel, Arirang's program director, was contacted by the Philippines Embassy consul late last year asking if the venue could be used for the festival.

"As well as the theater's proximity to Daehangno, I thought it would be a great opportunity for the district's citizens to experience Filipino films," Boo told The Korea Times. He was concerned that major film festivals featuring movies from France or Japan, let alone commercial products from Hollywood and Korea, are screened at large-scale theaters like CGV while less-funded screenings by more cash-strapped countries often found it hard to find venues.

Arirang last year hosted a third Bangladesh film festival there, attracting Bangladeshi nationals and dignitaries from other countries.

Filipino Ambassador to Korea Raul Hernandez wrote to Boo in March asking if Arirang's independent screening hall could be made available free. Boo agreed.

"Because the Bangladesh festival last year was such a hit, I looked forward to hosting another similar event this year," Boo said. "Then the Filipino project proposal came along at an opportune time."

Boo, who believes movies are a great medium to become acquainted with another culture, said he hoped to host regular film festivals for Bangladesh and the Philippines.

The "1st Philippines Culture Day" at Banweol Art Hall in Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province, March 17, featured cultural performances by Filipino and Korean dancers, singers and other artists. Courtesy of Rotary International

Ang arranged other local events here to celebrate the 70th bilateral diplomacy year.

The "1st Philippines Culture Day" at Banweol Art Hall in Pocheon was hosted by Rotary International's Dong Pocheon branch on March 17. Attended by Rep. Kim Young-woo from the main opposition Liberty Korea Party representing Pocheon's Gapyeong county, Pocheon Mayor Park Yoon-gook, Philippines Embassy officials and about 300 migrant workers and multicultural family members from the Philippines, the event featured dancing, singing and magic from Korean and Filipino artists.

Earlier that month, a hand-made card design competition, "Art for Heart," was hosted by Pinoy Artists in Korea at the Seoul Global Center, a Seoul Metropolitan Government space for foreign communities' activities. Ambassador Hernandez, East Timor Ambassador to Seoul Adalgisa Ximenes and Filipino organization leaders judged the cards made by children to commemorate bilateral ties.

Filmmaker, actor, social entrepreneur

After studying documentary broadcasting in Manila, Ang was accepted by the Art Major Asian (AMA) Scholarship program offered by K-Arts. He "threw away all my life" in the Philippines, where he made documentary films and organized events in digital marketing, "to start my life as a filmmaker only." He moved to Seoul in 2012.

In 2013, during his three-year master's program of filmmaking-directing, he wrote a script for "Seoul Mates," a romantic comedy short film, for the school's intermediate project. Ang directed it and it featured male leads from Korea and the Philippines. The movie portrays a bitter romance between a Korean musician and a Filipino transwoman who comes to Korea in search of her ex-lover.

Filipino actor Mimi Juareza as transwoman Alice in "Seoul Mates" (2015). Courtesy of

"Seoul Mates" developed into a longer version through a two-month shoot in 2014 and screened at independent film theater Indiespace in Seoul's Jongno district the following year. It was the first Korea-Philippines co-produced feature film made by staff and actors from both countries. The film screened in Tokyo in April.

Well accustomed to digital marketing, Ang has been running the non-profit online organization OBRA Incorporated ― which connects Filipino communities across the world through art and dance ― since 2007. He received sponsorship from Google that enabled him to advertise Pinoy Seoul, OBRA and other online communities he had launched to link Filipinos across the world on the first page of Google search results. The advantage of visibility on the world's leading search engine came from the sponsorship worth $10,000 a month.

"My hobby over the past 15 years has been digital marketing and analyzing websites," said Ang, who describes himself as a "SEO (search engine optimization) expert."

He is also an actor with Korean theater company Salad, which features talent from different cultural backgrounds. He is involved in musical production and teaching acting skills to children of multi-cultural families in Korea.

He said Salad president Park Kyong-ju often reminded him during his hard times that "there are always solutions."

One of those hard times came in 2016 when he sued K-Arts at the Seoul Administrative Court. The school's AMA scholarship committee, after approving his re-admission that year following his return from leave of absence in 2014, canceled the decision after just two months. Ang won the legal battle last January, allowing him to return to the school last March for his final semester.

"Maybe I am prone to abuse because I'm a foreigner," Ang said. "'Seoul Mates,' which features the minority group of Filipinos in Korea, partly reflects my own experience at K-Arts."

Written By: Ko Dong-hwan (

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