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The Ghosts of Jeju – award winning documentary film on the massacre in South Korea – Regis Tremblay in an interview with Mark Ulyseas. The film won the Exposé Award at the Peace On Earth Film Festival 2014.
What is the historical background to the Ghosts of Jeju? Why did you produce this documentary and what do you hope to achieve with it?
I first learned about Jeju Island in South Korea early in 2012 from my good friend and neighbor, Bruce Gagnon. Bruce had been to Jeju three times to protest against the construction of a naval base in a tiny, 400 year old seaside village that would accommodate the U.S. pivot to Asia. In early August of 2012, Bruce said, “I need to find someone to go to Jeju to support the anti-base protesters.” I immediately replied, “I’ll go and document it.” Less than a month later I was on a plane for South Korea. Financial support came from my local Chapter of the Veterans for Peace, and contributions from family and friends. Without their help, the film would never have been made. I have been a crew of one, researching, writing, filming, editing and promoting this story. From the outset, I intended to document another anti-war, anti-American protest. As a peace activist and member of the Veterans for Peace, I thought a short film about the U.S. military advances in East Asia might open some eyes in America.
After nearly one month in Gangjeong Village, where the base is being constructed against the will of 98 percent of the villagers, it became clear to me that what was happening in Gangjeong Village was not only a violation of human rights, but the desecration of a delicate ecosystem and several UNESCO World Heritage sites. It is impossible not to identify with these villagers who are mostly farmers and fishermen, who will lose their homes and their livelihood. I was outraged to watch several hundred Korean National Police remove a dozen nonviolent, peaceful protesters blocking the gates to the base to prevent a convoy of cement trucks from entering. This took place eight to ten times every day.
In spite of such overwhelming odds and the full force of the government of Korea and the courts, the indomitable spirit and resilience of these villagers and their supporters is inspiring. Their struggle has gone on now 365 days a year for seven years. At this point in time, I thought I had a pretty good story. While I was there, I kept hearing stories about ghosts, the ghosts of their ancestors. They kept telling me I would not understand their struggle until I visited the April 3rd Memorial on the other side of the island in Jeju City. Only on my way back to the mainland, after spending close to a month in Gangjeong, did I get to visit the memorial.What I learned there, made me cry. I was overcome with anger and shame at what my government had done on Jeju between 1945 and 1951. My undergraduate degree was in U.S. History, and like everyone else in America, knew nothing about what took place in Korea after WWII and during the Korean Conflict. Because the fiercely independent people of Jeju were resisting the occupation of the U.S. military and military government (after 35 years of a brutal Japanese occupation), and the arbitrary division of their country at the 38th parallel, they rose up. In order to put down the massive rebellion on Jeju, the U.S. military organized, trained, equipped, provided intelligence, and commanded the Korean Constabulary to put down the rebellion. As many as 60,000 innocent men, women, and children – peasants – were massacred because; the U.S. claimed “they were communists.” April 3, 1948 (4.3) is the date that memorializes the peasant uprising and this horrendous massacre.
I realized then that the elders of Gangjeong Village were children at the time and survivors of that horrible massacre, and suddenly realized what they had been telling me about their struggle to oppose the building of this base that everyone knew was to port 20 American warships including Aegis destroyers equipped with missile defense systems, nuclear submarines, and aircraft carriers.
I also learned that the U.S. military had stationed tens of thousands of troops on more than 40 bases all over South Korea in the years since 1953, and that even today there are more than 40,000 U.S. troops continuing the occupation.
In 2012, President Obama gave the Korean military “permission” to increase the distance of their missiles to reach all of North Korea, and permission to use drones. Proof enough that the Republic of Korea, created by and in the image of the United States, is nothing more than a puppet government doing the bidding of America in her attempts to project power against China and to surround that country with nuclear missiles and 60% of her naval might.
It then became clear to me that I had stumbled upon a much larger and more important story than I could have imagined. So, the 1948 massacre and the protest today in Gangjeong Village against American aggression in E. Asia was placed in the context of America’s long-range goal of full-spectrum dominance – on land, on the seas, in the air, and in space – of not only China and Russia, but any other nation that dared oppose the imperial march of the United States. It is particularly relevant in view of recent American interventions in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, South and Central America, and now in the Ukraine, on Russia’s very borders.
Could the USA have prevented the slaughter of men, women and children? Please comment.
The USA not only ordered the massacre, but commanded it directly. My research at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, led me to dozens of photos of the massacre and mass graves and documents proving U.S. complicity. Additional historical documents came from the April 3rd Memorial on Jeju. The Curator of the memorial sent me 8 DVDs with photos, old footage, and documents proving America’s complicity in this horrible massacre.My film is not an opinion-based dramatization of these events. It is the untold history of the United States in Korea, based on previously secret and classified documents.
Were the perpetrators brought to justice? Has the massacre been reported to the International Criminal Court?
The South Korean government earmarked Jeju Island as ‘The Island of World Peace’ on January 27, 2005. The purpose of the designation was to establish stability and peace on the Korean peninsula, and ultimately contribute to world peace.
Repeated attempts to gain an apology from the U.S. and compensation for survivors has been routinely ignored, just as have the peoples of Thule, Greenland, Diego Garcia, the Marshall Islands, Hawaii, and countless other sovereign nations where the U.S. has displaced indigenous peoples and desecrated the environment. The massacre and many more committed during the Korean War at the hands of the American military have only recently come to light. One million civilians were killed during the Korean War; many ordered shot dead as they fled the war and approached American lines.
Since the U.S. has been the victor in so many conflicts and has emerged as the only super power in the world, it refuses to acknowledge an international criminal court, war crimes tribunals, the nuclear proliferation treaty, and even United Nations declarations, making the U.S. in the eyes of the rest of the world, a rogue nation and an evil empire.
Did the surviving relatives of those murdered get compensation from the State?
The answer is no.
What is the present agitation about?
The present protest in Gangjeong Village is first, to stop the base from being constructed and from destroying their 400 year old village. Secondarily, it is a protest against American hegemony, imperialism, and war making.
When completed sometime in 2015, the village will disappear as housing for 8,000 military personnel is constructed, to be followed by the bars, shops, and brothels that will satisfy the needs and wants of American sailors.
Who are those supporting the agitation and why? And do you think they will succeed in preventing the building of the naval base?
In the beginning, the people of Gangjeon Village took up the protest and were soon supported by young activists from Jeju Island and the mainland. Before long, many in the international community became aware and travelled to Jeju to support the villagers in their struggle.
The Catholic bishop of Jeju and the Catholic Church on Jeju and the mainland have also been on the front lines with many priests and nuns travelling to Gangjeong. The Jesuits of Korea have also been present every day for several years. There are also Protestants and Buddhist monks who have joined the daily peaceful, non-violent protests in the manner of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. LINK
Over 600 have been arrested, most heavily fined, and more than thirty have been imprisoned. Professor Yang Yoon-Mo, a well-known Korean film critic and native of Jeju is serving his fourth prison sentence; this one is now in the 13th month of an eighteen month sentence. Prof. Yang has also gone on hunger strikes for as many as 54 days in each of his incarcerations. Several Catholic priests have also been imprisoned several times, and for the first time in the 200 year history of Catholics in Korea, a Korean nun has been indicted and is now on trial.
In spite of this organized resistance and international support, there is no stopping the completion of this base because of the overwhelming power of the corporate controlled state in Korea and the U.S.
Have you faced adverse reactions, if any, from either the US or South Korean Governments?
How has the film been received by viewers across the world and at film festivals? What has been the impact?
Well, it has been rejected by more than 20 film festivals in the U.S. and Korea. Only the Berkeley Film Festival in Berkeley, California, and the Chicago Peace on Earth Film Festival (March 6-9, 2014) have accepted it.
In spite of having no mainstream support from distributors and or studios, the film has been overwhelmingly received by grassroots people in more than a dozen countries including Russia. I have no way of knowing how many people have seen the film in cities from coast to coast, but I have screened it more than 50 times from Maine to California. Several colleges and universities have also hosted screenings.
The reaction is always the same. Many cry, and say things like “I’m ashamed at what my country has done.” “I had no idea about any of this.” And people always ask, “What can we do?” To that I answer, share this film with everyone you know.
Here is a typical comment received recently: “I just received my copy of “The Ghosts of Jeju. It is a very powerful and inspiring documentary that was an eye-opener to me. It exposes the dark side of America’s empire building. Peace and environmental activists must see this film to recharge their batteries.”
Please give us a glimpse of your life and works? What made you leave the priesthood? How did you become a documentary film maker?
I was born and raised in Waterville, Maine…a thriving mill town in the 40s and 50s. Three things stand out that shaped my life. I was an altar boy, who along with 50 to 60 other kids admired our local parish priest, Fr. James Manley Gower. Fr. Jim was way ahead of his time being involved in local human rights and justice issues.
He was also an early participant in the nuclear disarmament and peace movements in the U.S. I wanted to be just like him and went to the Carmelite Junior Seminary in Hamilton, Mass for high school to pursue my desire to become a priest.
After thirteen years in Carmelite seminaries, I was ordained a Carmelite priest in 1971. Along the way I received an undergraduate degree in U.S. History and Philosophy from Mt. Carmel College in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and an STL in Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy where I did four years of post-graduate work. It was during my four years in Rome in an international setting that I was first faced with some of the ugly aspects of America including racism, bigotry, wars and occupations I had never heard of. It became clear to me at that time that my country was no better and no more exceptional than any other. I had come face to face with how others viewed America and the myth of American exceptionalism burst.
Upon returning to the States I spent six years teaching photojournalism and yearbook and coaching at Salpointe Catholic High School in Tucson, Arizona and another seven years serving as a parish priest, hospital chaplain and Theology instructor in Phoenix.
After thirteen years, I left the priesthood and later married. We raised three wonderful children who represent the best thing I have ever done in this world. I didn’t leave the priesthood to be married. After 26 years, I became disenchanted with the hierarchy, the politics, and ironclad dogma and morality. I found myself becoming angry and resentful and knew I had to move on. I have never regretted the path I chose and will forever cherish the people who touched me and the incredible life experiences I had as a priest. They made me the person I am today.
I think I have carried with me Fr. Jim Gower’s concern for justice, peace, a world without war and a love for people. He remained a priest until he died last year at age 90 and the film is dedicated to him and the brave people of Jeju Island.
The second thing that shaped my life has had everything to do with my interest in journalism and now filmmaking. When I was in 8th grade, my mother taught me to type on a Smith Corona manual typewriter because I wanted to publish a sports newspaper covering the table games of hockey and football that my cousin Steve and I played nearly every day. It was then that I began writing stories on that old manual typewriter.
The third thing that shaped my life was the Kodak Brownie camera my parents gave me for Christmas when I was about ten years old. I loved taking pictures and this continued through high school and college when I was the school photographer. So the typewriter and the old Brownie are what led me to teach photojournalism, writing, and yearbook.
I never put down the camera or the writing and as I look back at what has been a seemingly disconnected number of life experiences, has actually led me to what I have been doing for the past 10 years. I consider myself an independent journalist and have been covering what the mainstream media avoids.
I created the Occupy Maine TV Show on community television during the occupation in Portland, Maine and then went on to create another community TV show in Bath, Maine covering issues dealing with war, the environment, 9/11, money in politics, tar-sands and more. All of these efforts were either short video documentaries or hour-long TV shows.
The Ghosts of Jeju is my first feature-length film and a direct result of a life-time of writing, documenting, and activism.
Without doubt, the indomitable spirit of the people of Gangjeong on Jeju Island, in spite of the overwhelming power of the United States, their own government, courts and military, is an inspiration to all who seek a better way to coexist on this planet. What is at stake is not which system is better or who is more powerful. What is at stake is whether or not we can survive in harmony with each other, with the earth and all living things upon it.
What I learned by going to Jeju was that with citizenship comes a responsibility for this nation’s deeds, and with knowledge of our past comes responsibility. The least we can do is amplify the voices of the peaceful people of Jeju.
Going to Jeju changed my life and I have made telling their story my personal responsibility.
Regis Tremblay is an independent filmmaker living in Woolwich, Maine. His interest in filmmaking began at an early age with the gift of a Kodak Brownie camera and learning to type on a Smith-Corona manual typewriter. Cameras, typewriters, and the keyboard have been part of his life ever since.
He studied for the priesthood and was ordained a Catholic priest in the Carmelite Order in 1971, serving for 13 years in Arizona where he was a parish priest, hospital chaplain, youth minister, and a golf coach and teacher of journalism at Salpointe High School in Tucson, Arizona. His interests and passion led to his teaching of photography, photojournalism, and advising the school yearbook.
Regis later married and raised three children in Phoenix, Arizona before returning to his home state in 2004. It was after returning to Maine that he focused his time and efforts on citizen journalism covering issues and events ignored by the mainstream media. To that end, he began focusing on environmental issues documenting the assault on Maine’s natural resources by oil, mining, and investment corporations.
He later documented the Occupy Movement in Portland, Augusta, and Brunswick, Maine and created the Occupy Maine TV show on community access stations. That led to the creation of another show focusing on political and social issues ignored by the mainstream media.
In 2012, Regis went to Jeju Island in South Korea to document a 6 year continuous protest against the construction of a massive naval base to accommodate America’s “pivot to Asia.” What he learned there about America’s complicity in horrendous massacres before and during the Korean conflict motivated him to make The Ghosts of Jeju, a very troubling, but inspiring film about indigenous people fighting for survival, the protection of the environment, and for a free and transparent democracy.
Without any significant financial backing, the film has been screened in more than a dozen countries and across the U.S. The trailer can be seen and the film ordered at: www.theghostsofjeju.net
2 Replies to “Regis Tremblay – The Ghosts of Jeju – Interview”
A big eye-opener!
Thanks. I shared on Facebook.
Thank you Donna.