Orphans [A Requiem]

by Joel Elliott

Docu-Short | 31:20 | Origin: Canada | Filming: Korea, Republic of | 2016 | English Language

While researching migratory birds in Cheorwon, South Korea, along the de-militarized zone that separates the North and the South, I came across a woman whose house was full of photographs from the other side of the border.

A mix of historical documentary and fiction, ‘Orphans [a requiem]’ presents rarely seen glimpses of North Korean life. It’s about the sometimes hidden trauma and forgotten casualties of the Korean War, and the birds that seem to echo that history across the peninsula.


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About the director

Joel Elliott is a writer, filmmaker and multimedia artist interested in transcending the boundaries between documentary and fiction. He completed his MFA in Documentary Media at Toronto’s Ryerson University. ‘Orphans [a requiem]’ is his first major project since his MFA thesis ‘The Flood and the Mountain’. He is the recipient of several awards from Ryerson University as well as a Canada Council for the Arts Media grant.

What was the best experience in making this film?

 I had the chance to witness some of the most breathtaking avian life by the de-militarized zone and explore some abandoned neighborhoods. Basically I could see the side of Korea that most don’t acknowledge or talk about — barren landscapes and older patterns of life.

In what ways did you grow as a filmmaker in making this film?

I discovered what it means to commit to a non-linear process and how much work and time and sheer madness goes into it. I realized that following your muse involves weathering a lot of doubt but also trusting your instincts. There almost certainly comes a time when you feel like it’s not going to happen, it’s not worth doing, it’s been done, and on and on, which are feelings that can’t necessarily be avoided, but need to be kind of waded through to get to the other side.

What does this film contribute to the greater good?

It’s not an activist documentary. It’s not particularly testimonial. It doesn’t have a program in terms of social reform or legislative change. As an historical documentary, it doesn’t advocate for reparations or even any particular revisionism. I hope what it can do is make people realize that despite appearances, the two Koreas may not be so radically different. Also to promote the idea that the Korean War was a true civil war, tragically exploited by two sides of a global conflict that had nothing to do with the lives of most Koreans at that time. It shows that history looms large even when (especially when?) it seems to have disappeared. Most importantly, I think, the film highlights the limits (and strength) of empathy and the necessity of fiction and mythology in finding one’s own place in the world. As Joan Didion said “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

Screening Info

Date and Time:

Saturday, September 10 | 12 noon – 1:30pm


Deutsche Schule- Classroom 2

Screenings / Awards

No Information

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