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In this monthly interview series EDN focuses on one of its many members to show both members in the spotlight and the diversity of the EDN membership group. Our EDN member of the month for September 2012 is Sinae Ha, BODA Media Group, South Korea.

Sinae Ha works as a producer and director for the production company BODA Media Group. She has a B.A specialized in Television production and journalism, and has worked in television production for three years.  While in the planning team, she launched a 50-min factual program, Top Secret (KBS 1) and developed the documentary series, Searching for Buddhism and The Last Paradise in 2006. From 2007 to 2008, she directed her first television program, Top Secret (KBS1), and a daily factual program Issue Unlimited (KBS 2). In 2009, she became a member of Communication and Interaction lab in Graduate School of Culture Technology, KAIST and made a short narrative film, Faceless, produced at the New York Film Academy. Since then she has developed a cross-media management technology in KAIST for her master‘s thesis and is now producing her first international documentary, Here comes Uncle Joe, with diverse partners; NHK, NRK and First Hand Films, and supported by KOCCA, SJM and BCPF.

In 2010 Sinae Ha founded the production company BODA Media Group. Here she looks for co-producing opportunities between Korea and other worlds. The company is currently working on Here Comes Uncle Joe and Mr. Election, observational and personal documentaries, and Reach for the SKY (Working Title), a co-production with the Belgium production house, Visual Antics.

EDN has talked to Sinae Ha about working internationally with her current projects and about the documentary tradition and situation in South Korea.

EDN: How did you get started in the documentary business and what made you choose to go in a documentary direction?

SH: After 3 years working with factual programs, I met a great character, Uncle Joe, and wanted to make his life a feature-length documentary. This was the turning point in my career. As I have attended documentary workshops and pitching sessions with this project, I had an opportunity to work with diverse partners and could develop this as an international documentary. With these experiences I want to continue working in the documentary industry.

EDN: What was the motivation for starting your own company – BODA Media Group?

SH: I started my documentary about Uncle Joe by myself in 2009 and my director, Wooyoung, joined the project in 2010. As my project was getting bigger and bigger, I needed my production budget to meet my aspirations. In Korea, all kinds of grants and funds support a production company, not individuals. So, I had to start my own company to obtain a production budget and to preserve my own copyright from Korean broadcasters and independent companies. My company was born by a regulation of Korean environment, but now I can make my own rules when making documentaries.

EDN: Is there a common mission or overall idea that is reflected in the projects produced by BODA Media Group?

SH: My company’s name, BODA, implies this line, ‘See beyond, and Create new experiences’. On each project, I’d like to set up exciting experiences. I called this DX, Documentary Experience, to enjoy my documentary making process. My documentaries are about Korea, but my productions don’t happen just in Korea. To work with a good editor, composer, camera people, and producers around the world, it has a good effect on my projects and encourages my director and staff in Korea to challenge other worlds. Much more important is to make my productions more exciting and interesting.  

EDN: In 2010 you participated in the Crossing Borders training programme with Here Comes Uncle Joe. The programme brings together documentary filmmakers from Europe and Asia who have a project with international potential. Was this the first time you went international with a project? What did you get out of participating in Crossing Borders?

SH: Yes, Here Comes Uncle Joe gave me the first experience of going international. With Crossing Borders, I learned about being an international producer.  Before CB, my career was limited to Korean territory, but I could cross this line with the professionals at Crossing Borders. I could get support when I was on a stage of pitch sessions, and good advice whenever I made a decision with diverse partners. In my opinion, I made a soft landing in the international documentary world with Crossing Borders.

EDN: Can you tell a bit more about the subject of Here Comes Uncle Joe and why you believe it has international potential?

SH: Here Comes Uncle Joe is about smile, sweat, and tears between the only deliveryman and 800 old people in remote villages in An-dong, Korea. As my director, Wooyoung, and I have made this project, we can observe their loneliness during their sunset years. And, they lean against each other to overcome their grief and to share their happiness. This project will remind audiences of their family and their own loneliness, wherever they are in the world.

EDN: What is the current status of Here Comes Uncle Joe?

SH: It’s on an editing stage. Now, I prepare for working with a Danish editor on this in September and October in Denmark.

EDN: You have also brought two other documentary projects to the international market – Reaching the SKY and Mr. Election. Mr. Election participated in Docs in Thessaloniki in March this year and Reach for the SKY is part of the Documentary Campus Masterschool 2012. Can you tell more about these two projects and what your aspirations for them are?

SH: Mr. Election is similar to the Uncle Joe project especially in its subject and style. It is about the oldest candidate in the 2012 congressional election in Korea. It was his 14th trial. This old guy’s endless challenge was so impressive to me because his life is completely different from the old people in Here Comes Uncle Joe. Although he is 82 years old, he always thinks how to live, not how to die. With this project, Wooyoung and I can deeply go inside the elderly society and can develop a psychological approach to reveal my character’s obsession. I’m still searching a co-producer for my post-production and a distributor for a launching. Reach for the SKY is a long-term project and I have a co-production partner in Belgium, Visual Antics. The director, Steven Dhoedt, has been interested in the Korean education system and students’ lives through his project State of Play, and, I’d like to express my harsh experience competing with my friends and studying hard to enter universities. With this motivation, Steven, Wooyoung, and I applied with this project to Documentary Campus and are continuously checking its potential. In 2013, we will observe high school seniors for a year and reflect the Korean education system in this documentary.

EDN: Both your project Here Comes Uncle Joe and last year’s festival hit the Korean Planet of Snail are personal and observational films. Is there a tradition for these types of documentaries in Korea?

SH: Oh, it is not easy to talk about a tradition... The Korean audience likes character- and narrative-driven documentaries. Many documentaries on TV focus on personal stories in series. But, it is not the observational and poetic style like Planet of Snail. My project, Here Comes Uncle Joe follows a part of Korean documentary’s approach in selecting the theme, but my style and tone are a little different from traditional ones. Recently, Korean documentaries are getting more diverse. Some parts focus on social and political issues in Korea for human rights and the other parts make experimental documentaries combining media arts and personal films.

EDN: Can you tell a bit more about the documentary situation in South Korea? How are documentaries funded and which types of documentaries are shown on TV?

SH: After the hit of Planet of Snail, Korean Creative Content Agency and Korea Communication Agency are like government fundings trying to support the documentaries with more funds for a longer period. On an annual basis, they post their call for applications on their website and support with from 100,000USD to 300,000USD. This is a big challenge for Korean directors and producers. Recently, they like international projects. So, if international producers find a co-producer in Korea, it is possible to apply this fund every march. And, SJM cultural foundation and BCPF like private foundations also support documentaries with a pitching session and supporting with from 30,000USD to 70,000USD. TV Broadcasters prefer acquisitions especially covering history, wildlife, culture and ancient civilization.

EDN: Do a lot of the Korean TV channels air documentaries?

SH: Korean broadcasters have their own documentary strands around midnight, in the morning, and at noon. Although it is less than entertainment programs and dramas, documentaries air about from 200 to 400 hours per year depending on each broadcaster. Recently, new TV channels are launched who start their own documentary strands. So, a demand and supply for documentaries will increase.  

EDN: Is there an environment for independent documentary producers and are more going international?

SH: It is hard to find a professional documentary producer in the independent environment because Korean directors usually manage all from directing to producing. Young producers recently appear more in the documentary industry and make a new and different environment to cover the Korean and international market. There are many Korean documentaries, which are not yet introduced to the international market. Many producers in Korea are afraid of speaking in English and presenting their documentaries. But, if they attend documentary workshops such as Crossing Borders and Documentary Campus, it is easier to approach the international market and to understand how it works.  

EDN: What lies ahead for you and your company?

SH: I will complete my first documentary, Here Comes Uncle Joe, by the end of this year, and consider a cross-media project, Uncle Joe Everywhere, to find a hero next to us, like Uncle Joe, all over the world. It would be an exciting project.

My company is small, but I hope that my works encourage many directors and producers to go to new worlds. And, I’d like to work with great documentary professionals. As time goes by, I feel that great collaboration makes an interesting work. 


Related links on

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