The making of a documentary film project: Side by Side—100 individual stories, and a five-year international journey through the personal memories and experiences of abandonment, relinquishment, orphanages, aging out, and inter-country adoption from South Korea.
By Glenn Morey (AKA Kim Kang), filmmaker
Once we were side by side. Somehow separated from our families of origin, and abandoned or relinquished to a South Korean orphanage—a line-up of beds, cribs, boxes, and case numbers. We were left behind in orphanages, police stations and churches, markets and doorways. That’s how millions of us came to live in a system of institutions and caretakers—the consequences of war and desperation, hunger and poverty, social stigma and racial bigotry, broken marriages and untimely death. Some of us were true orphans, without living parents. Most of us would be more accurately termed, “social orphans.” Either way, and for the most part, we were the Korean children with nowhere else to go.
From there, the course of our lives flowed with the random chaos of the universe, or in accordance with an omniscient and divine plan—depending on your beliefs.
Some, like me, were plucked out of the system and transported from South Korea to wealthy western countries around the world. More than 180,000 infants, toddlers, and teenagers were adopted by, primarily, white families in white communities, to grow up speaking English, Swedish, Danish, French, German, Dutch, or Italian.
Others of us were not selected for adoption, or weren’t eligible. These children grew up institutionalized, ultimately aging out to face the difficulties of Korean life without a family.
Still others died in the orphanages or on the streets.
An online video installation, launching May 18, 2018
Side by Side initially takes the form of an online video installation, exhibiting 100 separate filmed interviews, all of them presented very nearly in their entirety, as they were filmed in a single continuous sitting.
Each storyteller is presented starkly, in a minimalist filmmaking approach. Every participant was filmed in exactly the same way, on the same neutral background, with the same lighting and composition. We asked every participant to respond to the same four questions, in order to organize their narrative chronologically: (1) Tell us about your origin; (2) tell us about your adoption or aging-out; (3) tell us about how you grew up; and (4) tell us about the years when you became an adult, up until now. Occasionally, we asked a follow up question, for clarification or expansion.
A story and its teller, presented in 100 variations. And while this project is not a conventional 30-minute short film, or a 120-minute feature, we hope that Side by Side is simply a documentation of our collective story, in as honest a way as we could achieve.
For me, filming Side by Side has helped me make sense out of my own origin story. I’m beginning to understand and accept my own existence and experience. And I have been forever changed by being brought together with this group of 100 incredible people.
Side by side, once again.