Interview with Song E Kim, director of short film Bite of the Tail

What does the animation mean for you?

Freedom. I love that from my finger tips, I can create any kind of world I wish. Although it can be stressful from time to time, the freedom puts me in charge of almost everything in film making. I truly enjoy all the different roles that I take. Especially the role of acting. I am not so coordinated with my body. I am not a good dancer and am bad with sports, but I have expressive fingers that can make my characters act in any way I want. The ability to be involved in the entire process of storytelling is a wonderful freedom, for a control freak like me.

How did you start in animation film industry?

Through teachers and friends, I was connected to my first animation jobs while finishing graduate school. The first job after school was working on a documentary film, called „Playground”. There, I got to animate angry-looking kids from Yoshitomo Nara’s paintings which are just lovely designs with depth of personalities.

From whom did you learn animation?

I attended The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in undergrad where Chris Sullivan and Jim Trainor were my teachers. Jim helped me open my eyes to the beauty of simplicity, while Chris introduced me to a whole process of film making. At California Institute of the Arts as an MFA student, I was mentored by Paul Vester. Paul’s sharp and honest criticism had always put me on the edge, yet it was this input that was integral to my growth as an artist. Last but not least, there was Igor Kovalyov, who helped me learn how to visualize my film before anything is there.

How would you describe Bite of the Tail?

It is a film that revolves around four characters – Husband, Wife, Doctor and Sister. They are all yearning to find something that would solve their struggles or problems and they have their own ways of searching. Wife is suffering from stomach pain and she firmly believes Doctor knows a cure. However, Doctor has no idea what is going on. Husband secretly goes to an empty lot in a search of a snake. When he hunts, he wears a beekeeper’s hat. Sister talks a lot. How can one be certain whether she is speaking the truth or not?
Each character demonstrates the different ways of searching for the right answer, while an amorphous snake represents the elusive truth.

What is the message of the film?

I am not sure if Bite of the Tail has a message. It is more like my visual thought process of a personal struggle. It started as a question „What is a right answer?” The film is a depiction of my search of the right answer with some help of symbolism. At the end of the film, my search hasn’t been concluded which is also true in reality. I like it that way because I hope my film to be not a statement but a starter of sharing our everyday struggle.

How do you manage to make films in this period of crisis?

This is the first film that I finished outside of school and I can definitely say that it was an internally long emotional journey. As we all know, life doesn’t wait for you to finish your film. It requires a lot of discipline and passion towards the project because every moment you are constantly juggling between „reality” and your art work. There was always doubt whether it would’ve been better to move forward with my mundane life. But at the end, my art is a huge part that makes me who I am, and what gets me going. Sometimes, I don’t get to work on the most interesting projects like a commercial for fish oil pills or something. Having my own art gave me a healthy separation between me and what I do to earn money. Coming home and sitting in front of a light box is a sweet refuge. Perhaps, I could own a better coffee table if I didn’t work on the film. But who cares about coffee tables?! Now I have a film that defines a slice of my life. Sometimes, I jump on various knitting projects to cope with slow nature of animation. It is quite therapeutic to be reminded of the immediate results that knitting can provide.

What kind of animated films do you like?

I decided to become an animator after watching Pocahontas. The character design of Pocahontas was nothing that I have ever seen from any other animated films. She had neither the giant eyes nor bubbly movement. That opened my eyes to broad possibility of animation. I always get mesmerized by dark beauty of Ghost in the Shell. I thought My Dog Tulip was such a charming film. Its loose drawing style brought a feeling of intimacy similar to the relationship of a man and a dog. As an adult, Miyazaki Hayao’s My Neighbor Totoro always takes me back to my childhood. Also, I love playful surrealism of Priit Parn’s films.

What future projects do you have?

I have a concept for the next film. While working on the story, I realized that it will be a bigger film than Bite of the Tail, due to the complicated plot. Because of this, I decided to give myself a year or two break from animation before I jump into it. In the meantime, I am exploring art in different mediums such as print making, drawing and painting. Currently I am working on print series about victims and guilt.

What would you like to do in life that you couldn’t do it because of lack of time, resources, etc..?

Oh.. It makes me sad even to think of that scenario. I am sure no matter what, I will stay creative. I always have a lot to say and there are many other forms to express it.