Hummingbirds, the smallest birds in the world, vibrate their wings at extremely high speed to fly. As a symbol of tenacity and endurance, these birds embody the theme of the film House of Hummingbird, directed by Bora Kim. The South Korean filmmaker, who wrote and directed the debut feature film, was crowned the Best New Director by Korean Association of Film Critics’ Awards in 2019. The film won numerous awards at international film festivals including Berlin International Film Festival, Busan International Film Festival, Hong Kong Asian Film Festival.
Published on 08.09.2020
Kim obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Cinema in the Republic of Korea. Later, she received her MFA in directing and screenwriting from Columbia University (USA). Reflecting on her experiences at film schools, Kim says that confidence was hard to come by for female students. “At that time, there were few female directors and most successful films are directed by men. Film equipment were so heavy and designed for male users. I wondered why the equipment could not be made lighter and more female friendly.”
The film House of Hummingbird is set in 1994, a year seared into the collective memory of the country, when the Seongsu Bridge tragically collapsed. The movie realistically depicts a 14-year-old middle school girl, capturing her struggle, sadness, separation and depression, evoking emotions in the audience. Although the idea for House of Hummingbird was clear for Kim, it took her about seven years to complete her first feature film. Due to the subject matter of the film that was considered not commercially viable, finding private investments proved a major challenge. Kim recalls various objections expressed by potential investors. “Why focus on a middle school girl? Make her a high school girl so you can cast a famous actress. Why 1994? Set it in the present. It will be difficult to make a period film at that budget.”
Despite numerous rejections, she stayed true to her idea and continued to apply for funding over several years. She eventually secured enough funds from Korean Film Council, Seoul Film Commission, Seongnam Cultural Foundation as well as Seoul International Women’s Film Festival. Once the financial obstacle was cleared, Kim faced her own insecurities as a female filmmaker: “I had a lot of anxiety during making this film because I didn’t have many female role models. Male directors have so many role models, but as female filmmakers, we don’t. I hope my career can encourage other female directors to pursue their own career.”
In the male-dominated film industry, the female perspective brought on by Kim gives House of Hummingbird a unique strength. The film comfortably passes the Bachdel Test, a barometer for female representation in a film using one simple question: whether a work features at least two women with names who talk to each other about something other than a male character. “I had the chance to speak with Alison Bachdel, after which the test is named. I was happy to know that she liked my film.” Today, most commercially successful films are found to fail the Bachdel test.
When asked about the current challenges female directors face, Kim says: “I have been asked too many times about feelings or challenges as a female director. To be honest, I would like people to focus more on my film itself rather than the gender. I hope that one day such questions will disappear, which means it will be a normal thing for women to direct. I hope next generation of female filmmakers won’t be confronted with such questions.” She continues, “More measures to promote gender equality need to be taken in the film industry such as increasing the proportion of female judges in film festival juries. Joint efforts by the public and private sectors are needed to provide safety net for female filmmakers.”
WAVE，a project funded by “You Are Next” UNESCO | Sabrina Ho initiative, provides audio-visual training to young women in Palestine. Kim has some advices for these young girls who want to start their career in the film industry. “In a patriarchal society, women are bound by societal expectations. Please don’t look down upon yourselves. I don’t mean try to be strong, just try to be true to yourself, to be comfortable of being who you truly are.”