Korean-American Director Makes Documentary About Video Blogger
Many Koreans may not be familiar with the story of an American blogger named Josh Wolf, who was jailed for his refusal to surrender his video of a G8 protest in San Francisco to federal authorities in 2005. But the issue of freedom of the press is something that may ring true in Korea, where citizen journalism is on the rise.
Korean-American filmmaker Donna Lee was fascinated with Wolf's story, and decided to make it the subject of a documentary. ``Adventures of Josh Wolf: Activist Video Blogger" made its world premiere at the prestigious Mill Valley Film Festival in San Rafael, California, last month.
``The film has to do with bloggers, freedom of the press, the role the press plays, and just the new world of the Internet and what the definition of a journalist is. I think all these things are very timely, not just in the U.S., but also internationally, in Korea. Josh is also part of citizen journalism," Lee told The Korea Times over coffee in downtown Seoul, Monday.
The documentary received good reviews when it was shown as part of the Mill Valley Film Festival's ``The Home in My Heart'' short documentary program.
Hard to believe but the documentary was her first film project. Lee, who was born in Seoul but moved to the U.S. as a child, spent ten years working for a leading education management company. As director of communications, she produced several local TV ads for the company.
After quitting her job in New York last year, she moved back to the San Francisco Bay area. ``I wanted to explore my interest, that I've always had, in filmmaking. After I left my job last year, instead of getting another job right away, I wanted to take a few more classes. I wanted to exercise my freedom. I didn't know when I would have the time to do this again," she said.
So she decided to make a documentary about Wolf, as part of a class project. ``I met Josh just a month before I had taken a class. I heard his story and I thought it was really interesting. I thought it would make a great documentary at that time. When I started taking the class, I suddenly had the time and equipment to do it. It started off as a project for the video class. But I thought if I was going to spend time and effort on this, I wanted it to be meaningful," she said.
Luckily, she managed to set up the interviews quickly and shot it in three weeks. It took another three and a half months to finish editing it. After finishing the film at the end of April, she sent it to the film festival.
``I thought I would get in some smaller film festivals but to have its world premiere at such a prestigious festival was such an honor and very gratifying. The (film festival) programmers told me that they chose only 9 out of hundreds of documentaries," Lee said.
The 28-minute-long documentary presents a profile of Wolf and the issues surrounding his case. Wolf was a blogger who videotaped a G8 protest rally in San Francisco. Federal authorities wanted him to submit the videotape as evidence in their investigation on a separate incident at the protest, where a police officer was attacked and a police vehicle was destroyed.
The federal authorities' involvement in the case also caused controversy, since it usually fell under the jurisdiction of the city government. Another issue was whether Wolf, who was an activist and a blogger, can consider himself a journalist.
Wolf refused to surrender the video, and he spent seven months in a federal prison. It was the longest time a journalist spent in prison for protecting his source in the U.S. Eventually, Wolf was released after agreeing to post the entire video on his blog, but on the condition that he will not be asked to testify in court.
``The primary issue is he felt he was protecting the people he had videotaped in the anti-G8 protest,'' Lee said. ``Some felt the Bush administration was trying to clamp down on journalists who report on things that may be not supportive of their administration.''
Lee hopes to submit the documentary for consideration at several Korean film festivals next year. ``Documentaries are really an efficient way to inform people of issues and ideas that they are not aware of,'' Lee said.