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A Child’s Eye View of Tribulation

A Child’s Eye View of Tribulation (photo)

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The best films about childhood rely heavily on an alchemic bond between filmmaker and actor, and the connection between director So Yong Kim and the two very young leads of her new film “Treeless Mountain” must have been nothing short of miraculous. The story of Jin (Hee-Yeon Kim) and Bin (Song-Hee Kim), sisters left in the care of an indifferent, hard-drinking aunt while their mother goes in search of their absentee father, is a marvel of naturalism. Taken out of school and abandoned to wander the village all day, six-year-old Jin and four-year-old Bin learn to be resourceful, catching grasshoppers to grill and sell, saving up coins in a piggy bank in hopes that it’ll make their mother come back for them as she promised. I spoke to the Korean-born Kim about returning to her own childhood home to shoot the film, avoiding sentimentality and that whole pesky “neo-neo realism” thing.

Your first film, “In Between Days,” is about a girl who had come from Korea and was living here and struggling with the experience. What led you to actually go back to Korea to shoot “Treeless Mountain”?

This film was always set in Korea, and it was really important to me personally, going back to my own home country to tell this story. It was more difficult than I thought it would be, but I’m glad that I had the chance to work there as a filmmaker and explore the country, to see it with different eyes. When I was writing the script, all the places that I located the scenes in were based on my memory from 1970-something. To go back and see these locations — a lot of the places haven’t changed at all. It brought such a sentiment of connection for me.

What were some of the things that made it more difficult than you’d expected?

It’s one thing to dream of shooting a film in your home town, but it’s another to implement all the logistics of having your crew be half American and half Korean. There was a huge language barrier, and also a cultural barrier in the beginning. It was a rocky start. But something magical happened, which, thinking back, was a miracle — even though the first week of the shoot was very difficult and intense for everyone, after that it was so smooth. Everyone got along. It was like people were meditating. Everyone connected, and language didn’t become an issue.

04212009_treelessmountain2.jpgDespite “Treeless Mountain” being about two neglected children, I don’t think the film’s in any way sentimental. What that something on your mind when making it?

I’m constantly worried about that. It was a huge fear for me, before finishing the script, during pre-production, even when I was shooting, especially when I was editing. That was a huge monster that I had to tackle. When I watch anything that makes me cry or feel like “wasn’t that cute,” I’m like, “Oh no. That film’s not gonna stay with me.” It becomes this emotional candy bar. You’ll overdose on it and then forget about it. I didn’t want to make a film like that. I wanted to treat [the girls] like they were adults, with respect and a sense of the strong characters that they both had.

I was struck, watching the film, by how much it’s from the girls’ point of view — there’s an immersion in this childhood world. How did you put yourself in that space?

I wanted to make sure that the camera was always on the eye level of the kids, to convey the sense that you’re in these situations with them instead of observing them from far away. And I always wanted to start with the close-ups of each face, so that you could see these expressions that are so pure and honest from both girls. I tried to convey as much intimacy with them as possible. I completely trusted them and their ability to be in this film.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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