Controversial South Korean Ferry Documentary Enjoys Blockbuster Performance at Home

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Cinema Dal

The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol Still - H 2014

Michael Moore and Bela Tarr have espoused the film, which is getting an international version

Contrary to South Korean journalist Lee Sang-ho's concern that his controversial documentary co-directed with filmmaker Ahn Hae-ryong would have a difficult time opening in local theaters, The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol has made it to the big screen here and is drawing large crowds.

The film handled by Cinema Dal attracted over 22,000 moviegoers as of Thursday since opening on Oct. 23. Korean offices use admissions as their primary measure, and the 10,000-admissions mark is considered a blockbuster performance for indie films.

The film documents the tragic April sinking of the Sewol ferry that left hundreds of teenagers dead and accuses the government of incompetence and a cover-up in the largely failed rescue mission. 

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Foreign filmmakers have espoused the film. Michael Moore has contacted the filmmakers, who are currently working on an international version.

"People don't really know about the diving bell [a diving device featured in the film that also gives it its Korean title] outside of Korea, so we are working a version that provides more scientific evidence. There will thus be differences between the domestic and international versions. We've been in touch with director Michael Moore, who has been encouraging us, saying that the film needs to be shown to the rest of the world," said director Lee.

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer and Hungarian master director Bela Tarr also voiced their support for the documentary. Both were guests at the 19th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) this year, where the film premiered.

"I liked it very much. It is a very important film because it tells us how our society is and how this f—g capitalist system is working," said Tarr. "Please show it everywhere […] I appreciate the directors' work — the strictness and boldness."

The Truth had been subject to controversy even before its premiere in Busan last month. Some of the victims' families had initially protested the screening, arguing that "it hurts those wishing to move on." But representatives of the families have begun to support the film and have even taken part in Q&A sessions following screenings.

Read more Busan: Director Bong Joon Ho Condemns Chairman's Wish to Cancel Documentary Premiere