“Introduce what they have missed”: An Interview with Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso

Reviewed recently here on the site, Through Korean Cinema is a fascinating documentary that examines the history of the Korean film industry through the perspectives and experiences of five influential filmmakers.

Having appeared at several international festivals, Through Korean Cinema will appear on DVD in 2012. Director Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso was kind enough to answer some questions about his work – to explain how and why he decided to explore this subject and what his future plans are for further examining the work of Korean filmmakers…

[Martin Cleary] Can you tell me a little about your background and work prior to making Through Korean Cinema?

[Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso] My background is live stage performance. As far as I remember, I have always been involved in any step of live stage production. I wrote, directed and acted my theatrical plays. I am always open to different medium and ways of expressing art. Then I discovered film. My first short was “ Tras-portami via” (Trans-port me away), a playful interpretation of the 2005 Arcipelago short festival’s theme. I did not win the competition, but the limitless ways of expression from film inspires me to keep on creating. Other short films then followed: “Fidelity”, a video poem, a short documentary about twenty years after Chernobyl, “La città di Asterix” a short film which won a prize for best short film in Rome Fiction Fest 2010.

At 31, I decided to return to the University of Rome Sapienza to take a degree in Cinema. Then to further hone my skills in cinematic technique, I attended the New York Film Academy in New York. At around the same time i started selecting films from around the world for Rome Film Festival’s Alice nella Città. This experience has lent me a deeper view of world cinema, and it has introduced me to cinematic trends along the years.

[MC] What interested you in Korean Cinema and, in particular, these five filmmakers?

[Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso] I was very impressed with the large number of Korean films winning prizes in many international festivals. It baffles me that soon after these films disappear. Public unawareness of these gems might have contributed to it. I decided to do something about it, to introduce what they have missed, to introduce Korean films and their protagonists.

My source of motivation comes from the energy I often find in the cinematic language of Korean cinema. Korean directors are very liquid (play) with genres. They are working outside the traditional confines. Their point of view on how to tell a story is very original and mostly contains elements of surprise. The Korean directors are not afraid to use emotions and to be bold with them. This daring combination is solidly accompanied by the brilliant performance of Korean actors and actresses. Within the last few decades, Korean cinema, in my opinion, has influenced the world cinema in ways of techniques, ideas, and languages.

The five directors I chose are the key directors who have left significant mark in the stretch of the history of Korean Cinema. Each one is very well known for his unique cinematic language and genre. They are masters who influence many new Korean filmmakers. Also, I would argue that they are the first Korean directors you will want to know if you want to get introduced to Korean cinema.

[MC] The documentary shapes the history of Korean film – and in doing so covers a large amount of Korean history in general. This is in part due to the directors involved and the order in which they are presented. Is this a structure that you planned before filming or did it appear naturally?

[Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso] I had planned to interview these Korean directors during my research on Korean cinema and its history. I hoped to describe it in a simple form, in a chronological way, so it be accessible to all kind of audience. Five directors and not more is very important. With five, the audience can properly follow each interview. There are already a lot of information from each director. The audience learns who this director is, how he lives his life, his ideology and method of filming and in which period of Korean history he is. In the same time, it is very important for me that the audience can get a feeling of what Korea was and the Korean identity of today.

[MC] The interviews and film footage is intercut with scenes from Korea. Can you tell me a bit about where was this footage taken and how you found filming on the streets in Korea?

[Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso] These past couple of days while preparing for my new documentary, I have thought about this. My experience shooting these scenes in Through Korean Cinema gives me an understanding of the importance of local flavors embedded in each scene. Before I shot Through Korean Cinema, I went on my first trip to Korea alone with only a piece of paper. On it was an idea of the documentary. At that time, I had known the country only through its films .

I was there for one month and I lived and ate with the locals. I walked everywhere in Seoul, Busan, Jecheon and some other small towns. I took local bus, subway, train, taxi. I was in the fish market in Busan and Namdaemun market in Seoul. I tried to live as authentically as possible. The effect on me at the beginning was strange, because I started to feel as if I was in those films I watched in Italy. Every person on the street seemed to me a protagonist from some film. I remembered some places, now real, that was a set of a certain film. It was bewildering.

All these wandering helped me tremendously to capture the authentic feeling of Korea and its society. When I finally came back in Korea the second time with the crew to shoot, it was very easy to know the feeling of each scene that i wanted. I brought my cinematographer, Antonio Covato and showed him what to shoot in those places. The Seoul Film commission has been very supportive to us.

[MC] The documentary has been screened at several festivals – the Pusan (now Busan) International Film Festival (2010), the Fukuoka International Film Festival (2011) and the Tokyo International Film Festival (2011). What has the response been like from festivals and audiences?

[Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso] The screening in Pusan Film Festival was pleasant. Both screenings sold out. I am honored. The audience had been very appreciative on the fact that I’m an Italian director who shows interests on their cinema. I received a lot of questions regarding that. Im Kwon-taek came to the screening and afterward he invited me for a coffee with his wife. It was very kind of him.

The documentary was screened also in Italy at Florence Korean Film Festival where I met the Korean director Lee Kyu-man and his wife. After the screening they mentioned the documentary is a very good summary of Korean Cinema. To hear that from someone who has studied cinema in a Korean University is meaningful.

I didn’t go to the screening at Fukuoka and Tokyo Film Festival, but they sent me a nice email telling how appreciative the audience was.

[MC] Where will people be able to see Through Korean Cinema? I understand that it’s been picked up for a release in Australia and New Zealand in 2012 – has it been picked up elsewhere yet?

[Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso] At the moment it has only been distributed in Australia and New Zealand. Wide, my distributor is working on worldwide distribution.

[MC] Can you tell me about the next project that you are working on?

[Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso] Following the style of Through Korean Cinema, I would like to use similar approach to describe South East Asian cinema through the words of its leading directors. This new project has more complexities because it journeys into four countries in Southeast Asia: Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippine. Each country represents a distinct cultural point of view and cinema language respectively. While interviewing director from each country, I hope to uncover what is behind this “new wave” of South East Asian cinema and how historical events and societal behaviors contribute to the shaping of the country’s cinema language of today. The list of directors are: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Thailand), Brillante Mendoza (Philippine), Garin Nugroho (Indonesia), Eric Khoo (Singapore).

Another project that is borne from Through Korean CInema is a book of my journey diary while in Korea. I write about my impression of Korean society; the impact, the sensations, food, place, life style and trends. On it also, a full version of the Interviews to five Korean directors. It will be published next March 2012 by an Italian editor, Emmebi.

[MC] On your website one of the projects you currently have in pre-production is ‘K-Genre Cinema’ – can you tell me a little about your plans for this: are you planning on speaking directly to directors again and do you know who you would like to be involved?

[Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso] This project aims to describe how Korean directors mix different genres in their films and as a result create a new cinematic language unique to Korea. How did this technique start? And how it has left marks on each individual genre? To better exhibit this point, I will interview several Korean directors who have mastered this genre combination technique. The list of directors I would like to interview (listed with their well-known preferred mélange) is: Bong Joon-ho with his thriller/scifi/comedy, Kwak Jae-yong with comedy/romance/drama, Kim Jee-woon with horror /comedy/western/noir, Park Ki-hyung with horror, Kang Woo-suk with action/comedy, Ryoo Seung-wan with action, Im Sang-soo and Hong Sang-soo, both with author (art film). I’m just at the beginning of this project, it’s going to shoot in 2013.

Ten days ago I received an e-mail reply from Lee Myung-se. He was in Thailand preparing for his next film. If you ask me who I would like to be involved with, I would answer wholeheartedly that I would like to collaborate with all of them. I learn a lot from them, not only about cinema, but also about life. All of them are contemplative and challenge me to keep asking: what is a film? Do I choose a correct way? What is life? I particularly like the end of the Im Kwon-taek interview when he said “I’m going to die knowing I haven’t yet found perfection”

I would like to thank Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso for his time and for providing the images from his personal collection.

Through Korean Cinema will be released on DVD in 2012.