Nearly 18 months after its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, So Yong Kim's haunting drama In Between Days will make its theatrical bow tonight in New York at IFC Center. Featuring the stunning Jiseon Kim as Aimie, a teenaged Korean immigrant grappling with urban American culture and an unrequited crush on her best friend Tran (Taegu Andy Kang), the film scored acclaim among international critics and audiences before Kino International rolled the dice for a domestic release.
I've sung my own praises here previously, but thought it worth checking in with the filmmaker to look back at In Between Days' scenic route to distribution. Kim will join her husband and producing partner Bradley Rust Gray and her star for Q&A's following tonight's screenings; when we spoke she had just returned from a trip to Korea, where she is in development on Treeless Mountain, her semi-autobiographical follow-up about two young sisters growing up with their extended family in a small town in the '70s.
THE REELER: What phase are you at with casting Treeless Mountain?
SO YONG KIM: I think because the main characters are 6 and 4, it's going to take some time. We started going to some elementary schools and kindergartens to look at children, and we talked to some talent agencies. In Korea, there are no casting directors, so it's pretty much a hands-on thing. We hired some assistants to go into schools for us, because we can't be there the whole time to do the casing ourselves. We asked them to take photographs and video clips of the children in elementary schools and send it back to us so we could look at the footage. We were setting that up.
R: I spoke last year with some filmmakers who had similar experiences in New York, going from school to school and casting non-professional young actors in their films here.
SYK: I don't know if it's always the case, but any children who have experience who have experience in acting, they're usually trained to be a certain way. They're very cutesy, or there something not quite there.
R: But you went through a very similar process casting In Between Days, right?
SYK: Yeah. We put fliers up and put announcements on the Internet. We went to nightclubs to look for the male character and we found Taegu. It was a pretty similar process. But I think for kids, when they're that young, we have to be more diligent. Not only is it about finding the girls, but we have to go through the parents, and we have to get permission to even get them to come in for a one-on-one interview or test. It's a really involved process.
R: And on top of that, In Between Days is finally having its theatrical premiere. Considering the year-and-a-half's worth of accolades and festival attention the film has received, has it been exasperating or frustrating at all to wait for this moment in the trajectory?
SYK: It's funny, because Brad and I talk about that. We've been so busy, in a way -- Brad has a new movie coming out called Jack & Diane that we've been trying to raise the financing for, and I've been focusing on Treeless since In Between Days premiered at Sundance. In retrospect, we kind of had a feeling that In Between Days would get out there, so we didn't feel a rush or any anxiety about it not being out in theaters already. We had a feeling it would eventually get out there on it's own time; I think it was just a matter of when. And with Kino coming on board and helping us release it, the timing seems really great. It fits in with my next project, and it seems like it did all the festivals and had its life. I think a lot of American independent film directors go out on their own and try to distribute it and they become much more active than we were with In Between Days, but the decision between Brad and I was that it was more important to keep working on our next projects and get our creative energy going than to push the distribution angle.
R: When you look at In Between Days now, what are some of the ways you've perceived yourself change as a filmmaker as you move onto these new projects?
SYK: There are so many opinions about second film projects; a lot of people think it's a curse, or even a bigger challenge than the first film because now you really have to prove yourself or something. But because Treeless Mountain is such a different film that In Between Days, for me it doesn't even compare. The story is so different; although it's inspired by some events in my own life, kind of like In Between Days, it's kind of a fresh start for me the way I'm thinking about the film.
R: 'A fresh start' how? Technically, aesthetically?
SYK: A little bit aesthetically, but mostly I'm drawing from the experience of making In Between Days. I feel like I'm more experienced in making films, so I don't have that kind of nervousness about, 'Oh, how am I going to crew up?' Or this or that -- little things that I have experience in from before. That's good; I have a certain amount of confidence in that. But it feels like a fresh start because the story is so different and the location is so different. It's going to be a totally different kind of crew. It's almost brand new. I get really excited about Treeless. I'm kind of glad that I'm not making another film about a teenage love story or that kind of genre.
R: Have you stayed in touch with Jiseon Kim? Is she still acting or working on any projects?
SYK: She goes to Parsons; she's studying graphic design. She's going to be there (Wednesday) and maybe at some of the screenings over the weekend. I think her first dream when she was a kid was to be an actress, so when she got this opportunity to be an actress on In Between Days, she was really excited. And she did a tremendous job; she's so talented. I think what happened afterwards was that she tried to get work in films afterward in America and also in Korea, but the reality is that it's a very different experience for a Korean immigrant woman to try and get an acting job in the States. And also, in Korea, it's difficult because you have to look a certain way to be an actress there. That was also difficult for her. She's not giving up on acting, but she has other creative means to fulfill that talent in her. I'm glad she's also going to school and concentrating on that.
R: This week is probably the last time you ever do Q&A's for In Between Days. After facing so many audiences over the last year-and-a-half, and also knowing how dodgy some Q&A's can be, what did those moments reveal to you about your movie?
SYK: Usually there's at least one question that comes up that hasn't come up before that makes me think about the film differently. So I think I try to just learn from what the audience gets out of the film -- that's the most important thing. When I made this film, it was very personal and I always thought I was just making it for a good friend. I didn't think of it as a mass public kind of film. Now what my job has been when I go to festivals is to listen to what audiences are saying -- how they perceive the story and interact with the characters. I'm learning a lot from that; it's surprising. There was a Q&A in Paris where one audience asked what the ending of the film meant. She was totally confused about, 'What does it mean? Why does it end like this?' And another audience member actually stood up and answered for her; I didn't have to answer at all. It was really funny. The answer was really in-depth and detailed. I was, like, "Wow, thank you!"
R: Was it right?
SYK: There are so many different interpretations of the ending. For me, it's all kind of how the audience perceives the story and whether you are a person who sees the glass half-full or half-empty, you know? So, yeah. Actually, it was really, really good.
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