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Dal Park makes a perceptive 2D animation film in West Question, East Answer. Check her interview and watch the film

People come and visit different places in the animation world. Dal Park, a German student at Royal College of Art, with a Korean origin, set out to make a film where "communication can be difficult when cultural and historical backgrounds are so distanced. A Korean grandmother and her German granddaughter try to work it".

This is the premise of her West Question, East Answer. We talked with Dal Park about the background and the challenges of the task.

ZF: What was the intention behind the project? I know it's a documentary etc., but did you want to showcase your grandmother, the Korean history or your own relationship with your grandmother?

DP:  Initially, I wanted to make a short film solely based on my grandmother’s life. I wasn’t supposed to be part of this documentary at all. My grandmother was born in North Korea during the Japanese Occupation, experienced the Korean War, was a refugee in South Korea and later went to Germany to major in German Studies where she experienced the German reunification.

22 years ago, she wrote an autobiography in which she describes the political events that shaped most of her life. During my first year at Royal College of Art I went back to reading her book and started having a lot of questions, especially about her personal thoughts, motivations and reasons for the tough life decisions she made. Moreover, I wanted to find a connection between this extraordinary woman in this book and the one who I knew as simply my grandmother and family. I thought this would not only be an interesting subject for a film but also a great opportunity to have an intimate conversation and the chance to get to know her better.

So I went to Korea for three weeks, where my grandmother now lives, to have a chat with her. But on our first morning together we ended up in a quite confrontational discussion about the interview without even having one. My dad, who was there as well, tried to mediate between us but it completely failed. My grandmother is quite protective about her personal information (I guess due to her life experiences) and I simply couldn’t understand her objections and issues with the interview. On the other side, she didn’t understand my “ignorant questions” and how I would make use of the information I asked her about. It was a really frustrating experience for me and a bit of a shock as I expected her to simply open up to me - her granddaughter and family. In hindsight, my expectations of this visit were quite cheesy and stereotypical so no wonder it failed.

Even though I felt very frustrated about our communication problems, I was quite intrigued by them. Contemplating about the situation, I decided to make a film about our clash instead. In many ways, it was about uncovering who she really was as an individual, understanding her and also myself, to break away from the prejudices I held.

ZF: The grandmother speaks in Korean, and the granddaughter in German - only in the end does the grandmother speaks (and sings) in German. What is the reason for this?

DP: We actually communicate in Korean and German with each other. My Korean is really bad as I don’t really speak it but I do understand a lot. My grandmother speaks fluent Korean, Japanese, English and German. But when it comes to expressing really important information she prefers Korean. So while she mainly speaks in Korean to me I always respond in German. My grandmother loves to sing. She has a photographic memory so she remembers every song and poem she learned from her childhood to today.

After our big clash, I changed my strategy and simply started spending time with her and following her rules in the house. Our moments together were mostly in silence but from time to time she would sing her favourite German folk song to me which you can hear in the short film. These were intimate moments I wanted to depict in my film, especially in the end when the two characters get closer to each other.

ZF: Is what we hear an excerpt of the original conversation you had with your grandmother? Or was it re-created? 

DP: Well, it’s a mix of everything. When I came back to RCA for my final year, I knew I wanted to tell the entire story of my visit and depict our conflicts. I put together a skeleton for the story and decided on the character arc. Instead of working with a storyboard I did 20 min free writing exercises each morning (during the first term) which helped me to reflect on the story I wanted to tell and to chose key moments I needed to show. I animated these first.

I then pre-selected some audio footage and typed it down. I worked with an incredible script writer, Lydia Rynne, from NFTS. We had a very long chat about my summer at my grandmother’s house, my ideas, thoughts and the story I wanted to tell through this film. She then managed to pick single sentences from the written audio and patch them together into a story structure I had in mind. Alongside, she wrote the voice overs.

Based on the script, I started editing sound around each key moment and kept editing more sound, animations and images until it came together into a film. There were parts in the audio I wanted to use but the sound quality was not the best because of background noises. Edward A. Guy, who was from NFTS as well, designed the sound for my film and did an amazing good job in cleaning up most of the audio but some footage had to be re-recorded. All in all, the audio in this film are mostly original recordings or re-created audio based on the conversations I had with my grandmother.

ZF: The neighbour's roles are inspiring. Were thought of from the start or were they developed later?

DP: The idea for the neighbours came when I was at my grandmother’s house. She lives in a small village on the countryside where the houses are mostly open and the Korean society is very communinatrian. So almost everyday the neighbours would stop by and bring food or just come in for a chat. They are very friendly, loud and fun to watch. There seemed to be a lot of gossip happening and since it’s such a small village with just a few houses information seems to move even quicker - both good and bad ones. It was also really interesting to watch how my grandmother communicates with the local people choosing her words and information wisely.

Inspired by these situations, I created the neighbour’s roles for my film. They represent the reason for the granny not wanting to share any personal information with the granddaughter. In addition, the neighbours also represent my subjective and critical view on the Korean community in Germany. As a child I had to attend Korean school every Saturday. I experienced the community as nosy and gossipy and refused to be part of such an intrusive community. When I visit Korea, a lot of these old emotions and memories from my childhood come back to me and I wanted to illustrate these intricacies in my film.

ZF: Many animation documentaries use live-action segments in addition to comment on the animation. You didn't do that. Why?

DP: The beauty about animation is that you can create your own world. I love mixing my animated world with original audio footage. I feel it works very well together as a documentary. Animation also helps me to tell a story in a very personal and intimate way. But I feel that adding live-action will break the world I created around my own reality.

ZF: Were there things that troubled you in the animation process or it was smooth sailing all along? And tell us more about how you created the hand-drawn feeling.

DP: There were quite a lot of things that troubled me during the animation process and each day I faced different issues. But I also enjoy this kind of problem solving. The entire film was hand animated on TV Paint. Each frame was then printed out and coloured in with acrylic, charcoal and pencil on paper. All the drawings were scanned in again and put together in Premiere. Thankfully, I had a great team of hard working colouring assistants who helped me colour in each frame or else I probably would have never finished on time. The main worry, throughout the process, with this film was that I didn’t work with a classical storyboard. I wanted to have the freedom to experiment but had to be very careful not to get lost too much and animate too many scenes that would later end up in the bin during the editing phase. Even though I had a clear skeleton of the story and a structure with the help of Lydia, I was not one hundred percent sure how the film would look like until the very end as I kept editing and changing the film each day. This part was most nerve wrecking and I just had to trust that everything would come together into a coherent film.

ZF: Did your grandmother really write a book on the Korean war?

DP:  My grandmother didn’t write a book about the Korean war but wanted me to study the history to understand her better. She wrote an autobiography and in her book she describes the political events that shaped and determined her life. The Korean War was one part of it.

ZF: You had another film on your mother. Is family an important topic for your creative work, and do you plan something similar different for your next project?

DP:  I love working on narrations but I am not really good in creating fictional stories from scratch. I enjoy taking my own experiences and re-tell them in my own way. I guess I can only talk about things I experiences so I use my own family as subject or get inspired by them a lot. In the end, it’s probably a way to help reflect on myself. I made Prey to help me process my experience with my mother’s sickness and death. I guess it was similar with West Question East Answer. I was a bit shocked when I experienced these communication problems with my grandmother (but at the same time quite intrigued). So I felt more like expressing that experience.

I am currently researching for my next film idea that bears a close parallel to my first year film. I am researching on our attitudes towards death and looking into our contemporary and ancient relationships of dying, mourning and death rituals. Before I started my MA at RCA, I worked as a funeral assistant for few months. This summer, I have also had the incredible opportunity to volunteer at St. Joseph’s Hospice in London. I would like to utilise a combination of both, my experiences and research, in my next short film.

ZF: How would you describe family in a few words?

DP:  Loved ones that you can feel close and distant to at the same time.

ZF: You use specific animals each time in your animated films. In Prey, it was the lion; now, you have frogs and flies. You like to mix animals and humans in a story?

DP:  I love using metaphors and symbols in my stories. In my last two films I happened to use animals. I really enjoy illustrating and animating them. In Prey, death is portrayed by a black lion. In Western culture death is often depicted as the Grim Reaper. When my mother was sick she told me that in her side of the family, death is represented by the black lion who visits you in your dreams before you die. I loved the idea/ symbol of the black lion as it is a lovable animal that one also fears. It is a less aggressive and horrific image of death which I liked as I wanted to illustrate the fear and acceptance of death in Prey. West Question East Answer starts with a frog in the very first scene. Frankly, the frog was just animated out of fun when I needed a short mental break from my film. But he turned out to be quite a popular character during our work in progress show at the RCA so I gave him small a part. The mosquitoes, on the other han,d work as a metaphor for the neighbours. Mosquitoes are unwanted guests, always creating annoying noise in your ear and sucking your blood. After all, it was a hot summer in Korea, and I came home with a lot of mosquito bites on my legs. I really like the mosquitoes as a they are a fun representation of the neighbour characters and add humor to the film.

Film Review (Vassilis Kroustallis)

West Question, East Answer is a restless film, camera-wise and interrogation-wide. Sometimes, narration leads the fluid (but always delimited) bodily figures, but most of the times visual scenes take their own flight. Armed with the concept of an annoying fly and its predator, Dal Park sets her whole film as a power game to reveal the truth underneath. Position changes (high and low), finger pointing, bows and presents offered are all small rituals which determine that East Answer is not an easy answer. A remarkably well thought-out effort in 2D animation.

CREDITS:
DIRECTION + ANIMATION: Dal Park
SOUND DESIGN + MIXING: Edward A Guy
WRITER: Lydia Rynne, Dal Park
ACTORS SOUND EFFECTS: Eunju Ara Choi, Sunny Sun-A Kim, Eunji Choi
COLORING ASSISTANT: Alix Bortoli, Camille Gibut, Dana-Mari, Tarakchieva, Terri Broughton, Tianhua Lin, Tom Salo, Shiran Shu,, Brogan Bertie, Jia Li, Mariana Leal, Grete Ly Valing, Fazilet Akbaba,, Jonathan Kan, Inadas Ait-Ferral, Fabian Wong, Zehong Zhu

About Dal Park
DAL PARK is a German animation artist, director and illustrator based in London since 2018. / BA Communication Design, Munich University of Applied Sciences (2014) / MA Animation, Royal College of Art (2018)

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