By Han Sang-hee
For renowned movie director and critic Thom Anderson, documentary films are the most powerful medium revealing the lives and cultures of other people.
Anderson, the head judge of the EBS International Documentary Festival (EIDF), says he enjoys watching and making documentaries because of their very nature.
"There was a certain period when people didn't like the word documentary. They thought it was limiting, but I was always proud to be a documentary filmmaker", he said in an interview at the EBS headquarters in southern Seoul, Monday.
"For me, cinema is a way of revealing life, showing people how others live and also different cultures. When filmmakers can say `none of this is made up and they all come directly from life', that connection is particularly strong, and this (connection) can be found in documentary films", he said.
Andersen is also a professor at the California Institute of the Arts. He won the National Film Board Award for Best Documentary at the 2003 Vancouver International Film Festival in 2003.
He said he was surprised to find Seoul as such a high tech city.
"I'm from Los Angeles and it's an old beat up city. Seoul is more modern and advanced so it's a little discomforting", he said smiling. "I don't allow students to use computers (during) classes. We are really low-tech over there".
With the success of local documentaries such as "Old Partner"
(2008) and "Tears in the Arctic
" (2008), the interests regarding the style has increased, but compared to the United States where documentaries are regarded as an important genre in production, Korea still has a long way to go to fully appreciate the influence the films have on viewers.
"At one time the only outlet for documentaries was television, but now there are many documentaries being shown in theaters (in the U.S.)", the director said. "The reason (for this) is because in Hollywood, fiction film has lost its traditional vocation, which is to provide emotional truth within human life. People are going to see documentaries for that now. It's the golden era of documentaries".
According to Anderson, there are many Korean students at the institute who study film, and when asked if there was any difference in style and content between Asian and Western students, he shook his head.
"There was one time in the U.S., especially Los Angeles, when people thought there was something special and liberating about Japanese films. Asian film had great influence to those who wanted to escape the Hollywood style. But now, it's possible to watch film from all over the world", he said.
Some may think that documentaries lack imagination and creativity as they focus on reality, but Anderson thought otherwise, mentioning that he is more interested in what is on the outside.
"Some people are interested in imagination and what is there in their heads and revealing that. To me, what is inside our heads is just a bunch of junk. The world is always changing, and the possibility for documentaries to renew itself is always present, although the form of documentary making may follow the traditional path", he said.
"When you get to a certain age and you watch fiction films, you think you have seen it all. You have seen every possibility what can be done in fiction filmmaking, but documentaries are always new. As you grow a bit older, you become a documentary film lover".