Korean documentary film highlights the role of social media in promoting street protests

So you miss some old-school political action. Like, you want corrupt politicians in some faraway country and students protesting in the street. Also, you dig the new futility-ridden Internet political thang. Like, you want to see badass flash mobs and a bunch of socially networked kids that just click their way through a better world.

Then you will love Shall we protest?, the documentary film about the Chotbul (“candlelight”) political rallies that paralysed the city of Seoul from May to August 2008. Written, directed and produced by South Korean mediactivists Sungmi Cho and Dongwon Jo, the film explains with great insight and passion how a small online forum of fashion victims called the SoulDresser managed to bring 1 million citizens in the streets to protest against the South Korea/US FTA (free trade agreements).

The Chotbul protest was initially meant as an netizen initiative “against the mad cow disease”  but it soon evolved into a national upsurge against Lee Myung-Bak’s government and the interference from US administration in South Korean  economic policies. The emphasis is put on participants’ self-organizing and collaborative know-how, as well as on the creative side of this grassroot tactical media protests that federated a large number of online fandom networks: manga nerds, boy-band fans, and many others  admittedly obscure subcultures turned their peculiar passions to good account to serve a common cause.

Sure, this is not Tien-An Men and the South Korean government is far from being an actual dictatorship. Yet president Lee Myung-Bak comes out as an East-Asian Berlusconi: a populist right-wing moron whose limited mental capacity (his nickname is “2MB”, or LeeMB, as the number 2 is pronounced “lee” in Korean) is inversely proportional to his extensive record of criminal allegations (14 trials stood to this day).

The really interesting thing is that this documentary is a pure product of the open culture. Produced using FOSS (free open source software), the film is freely downloadable and screenable. It is the output of the work of a small community of activists that filmed, edited, contributed everything from subtitles to the music score under Creative Commons license. Despite their past association with traditional political formations such as the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the two directors emerged from the MediaCultureAction – a network of activists from alt media and cultural movements loosely associated with the antiglobalisation movement. So, despite its popculture flavor, the 2008 Seoul protests follow in a hardcore militant timeline that leads from the 2005 anti-APEC demonstrations in Busan,  the opposition to Hong Kong WTO meeting, and the 2006 popular reactions to South Korea-US FTA (Free Trade Agreement).