▲ "After The Sewol directors Neil and Matt Photo courtesy After The Sewol
Three years since the Sewol ferry disaster new film “After The Sewol” explores the aftermath of the tragedy. From the moment that relatives first began finding out about the sinking, to the ongoing struggle for truth, justice, and a change to safety laws in Korea.
The film has been created by British filmmakers Matt Root and Neil George. It is currently in the middle of a successful festival run that has seen it be put up for selection at numerous festivals. It also won the Best Feature Documentary award at the TMC London Film Festival.
At the time of the Sewol ferry disaster both Matt and Neil were living and working in Korea; Matt as a freelance filmmaker and Neil as a lecturer at a media university.
As news broke about the disaster there were many conflicting reports about what exactly was happening. It is the sense of confusion brought by these initial news broadcasts that is the basis of the questions that the film explores.
Matt explained the effect the initial broadcasts had on him: “it was quite shocking that there was so much content being broadcast. Watching the families screaming at the people who are just standing there not doing anything. Watching the divers not able to dive, and the coastguard just bringing bodies back one after the other.”
Throughout the movie, these questions and contradictions are explored in devastatingly honest interviews with the family members of survivors as well as those involved in the rescue and the search for justice.
In one scene, a father mentions how he felt relief after being told everyone on the boat was safe. This was then completely turned around soon after when he was told that, actually, there were many people still trapped on the boat who were unlikely to be saved.
Other inconsistencies investigated include news reports that spoke of hundreds of divers being at the scene working on the rescue effort while eyewitnesses say that there were far less (only six). Of these divers, most were unable to do anything due to strong currents and poor conditions.
Due to the subject matter of the movie, there are many scenes that are particularly difficult to watch. One shows cellphone footage taken by people trapped inside the ship itself. Other scenes show the early stages of the sinking, the ship starting to tip over but with much of it out of the water.
These scenes not only help illustrate the questions brought up by the film but also tug at the emotions of the viewer, drawing them closer into the investigation of the film.
Many of the interviews in the film are critical of the government, both in relation to the Sewol tragedy itself and also Korea’s overall record when it comes to safety standards. In fact, Matt mentioned that bringing attention to this record through the film was particularly important to him and the second part of the film really focuses on the issue.
▲ Photo courtesy After The Sewol
“The bigger message we try to highlight throughout the film is that this is not the first man-made disaster in Korea related to safety issues.”
The film looks at the Sampoong Department Store collapse and the sinking of the MV Seohae ferry to see what, if anything, has changed and also what can be done in the future.
“And as we look deeper into history a significant point on top of that is that no effective change came from the government to prevent future accidents or disasters like the Sewol tragedy from happening. We question why?”
Of course, the release of this film comes at a time when many Koreans are hoping for change. After months of protests to remove the previous president Park Geun-hye, the country finally voted in new president, Moon Jae-in on March 9.
However, the people involved in “After The Sewol” aren’t celebrating the just yet. Neil explained that:
“Yes, Park Geun Hye has been impeached and more than likely will be imprisoned, but the problems stem much deeper than this. There are still a lot of issues to be resolved, especially surrounding safety, so although there have been changes we are not sure how these changes will affect anything [...] although the impeachment of Park is a hugely defining moment in Korean history we think we will have to wait 10, 15 or even 20 years to see how much of an impact the Sewol families had.”
▲ Photo courtesy After The Sewol
Ultimately, “After The Sewol” seeks to look, not just into the tragedy itself but why the tragedy was allowed to happen and what is being done to stop another similar event from happening in the future.
That is, in essence, why the families of the deceased, the lawyers working for them, and people like Matt and Neil, are so dedicated to finding out what happened. Not simply so that the people involved can get a sense of closure, but so that society as a whole will change, learn from what happened, and ensure that it never happens again.
Matt and Neil are currently working on asecond part of the film that will focus on “The Sewol Generation” and how/if the younger generation affected by the Sewol disaster will change Korea.
Part one is currently being shown at festivals around the world. In terms of a general release, Matt and Neil hope to have a distribution deal for Korea in place by the summer.
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