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Meet Bo Yoon Ha

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bo Yoon Ha.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Bo Yoon. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I was born in South Korea and grew up in Santa Barbara. Most weekends were spent wandering the aisles of Blockbuster, then watching my selection in the quiet of the night. I never really felt like I belonged anywhere, so I found a lot of comfort in movies. Even though the characters didn’t look like me most times, I could still connect with the stories and emotions.

Maybe because of the familiar feeling of being an outsider, I’ve always had an interest in the “other”. This grew into a passion for human rights that took me to Uganda my sophomore year of college. Originally I went with the intent of “saving people” by working with non-profit organizations. However, I soon began to realize no one needed my help and there was a serious disconnect between how the region is represented and the reality on the ground. I expected destitution and war, but instead found normalcy and unexpected connections with people. My research shifted to focus more on the dangers and consequences of this type of deliberate misrepresentation, specifically Invisible Children’s “Kony 2012”. I realized the power of images and wanted to start making my own.

All of this culminated into my filmmaking career. I am interested in making films about connecting with the “other”. I am finishing my MFA in Film Directing at UCLA, and have made short films in LA, Korea, and Uganda that have shown at various film festivals. My latest short film, “Lamara”, is supported by the Sloan Foundation. It is about a neuroscientist who conducts memory experiments on ex-rebels in Uganda and comes across a man with his memories of lost love. I am currently working on my first feature film, a “coming of 30” story set in Santa Barbara.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
There is a very specific type of struggle when it comes to filmmaking. It is physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding. You have to constantly be juggling so many moving parts that can fall through at any second. It’s difficult to find ways to keep your vision and sanity through it all. If you break, the whole boat sinks. It can be a lot of pressure. There are moments of magic, but most of the time, it’s Murphy’s law – “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. You definitely need a tough skin and an open heart and mind.

My personal struggle usually comes in my search for an inclusive cast and crew. I always want to work with people of color and women. The way the film system is currently set up caters to a certain demographic. If I wanted to cast a white male lead, it would be a lot easier. It is built for them. There are so many official resources and casting sites. I end up having to get much more creative and find a more communal and underground approach. I post on social media, I ask friends, I make posters and radio announcements, I approach random people on the street. It makes the work much harder and time-consuming, but, to me, it is worth it. Most times, I end up not finding my lead actor until right before shooting. It’s scary and a risk, but I have learned to just trust the process.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am a writer/director and specialize in films about identity. I would say I’m known for humanistic stories that focus on exploring a specific emotion in unexpected places and people.

I’m proud that my films always come from a very personal place. It is almost like my way of working through things in my life, a kind of therapy. Many times, this is hard because I have to get to such a vulnerable place. There will be times when I’m crying while in the editing room or writing. But, if it’s not personal, then what’s the point? I believe filmmaking should be about expressing something deep inside of you.

I think something that sets me apart is that I have been trying to find new approaches to filmmaking. I want to find ways to enjoy the process and focus less on the product. I want to collaborate with people that share similar values. I want to enjoy being on set. I want to prioritize mental and physical health. I want to find purpose in filmmaking that is outside of the external. I want to focus more on discovery and exploration. I want to connect.

What were you like growing up?
I was very quiet. I actually didn’t talk for so long, they thought I had a speaking disability. Then one day, I started talking in full sentences. They think it stemmed from my confusion of English being spoken at school and Korean at home. I think also I just have always preferred observing in the corner. In this way, I can be very interior. I still find it easier to express myself through writing than through speaking.

I spent a lot of time alone growing up. My dad was gone often for school and my sister wasn’t born until I was eight. So, I had to find ways to entertain myself. Reading. Writing. Drawing. Watching movies. Pretending. I would create entire worlds. In this way, storytelling is something that has always felt very intuitive to me.

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Image Credit:

Felix Schmilinsky, Matt Lara, Eddie Ojok, Siru Wen, Kwun Han Kim

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