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Kevin Sawicki and Alex Igidbashian are currently senior film students at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who are striving to make a documentary film about the Haenyeo women of Jeju Island, South Korea.
Haenyeo, is the titled commonly given to a woman free driver, who, in the hunt for octopi, abalone and conch, dive with only a wet suit, mask, and cutting tool (they utilize no oxygen tank or respirator). Generation after generation of these women have passed down techniques that allow them to hold their breath for up to the three minutes, and dive down to sixty feet. Jeju-do is a small volcanic island located just south of mainland South Korean, and west of southern Japan, and only one of two places in the world where this type of diving is found.
Due to Japanese colonization, in the late 19th century, a heavy tax was imposed on male incomes on the island. To circumvent this, women began taking up their husbands' occupation of diving, and quickly became the bread winners for their families. This shift of power from one gender to the other lead to the development a unique matriarchal society on the island, at a time when the rest of Asia was subscribed to the more traditional patriarchal family unit. The occupation of diving however, was socially frowned upon due to it's extremely laborious nature, as well as it's direct benefit to the Japanese, who were the primary consumers of the divers' catch. In spite of this, diving continued to be a profitable means of earning a living until recently.
In light of the growing tourism on Jeju Island, younger women, who hail from Haenyeo mothers and grandmothers, are seeking contemporary occupations, resulting in the decline of female divers. In the last 50 years, the number of Haenyeo has decreased from 30,000 to a mere 3,000, leaving the majority of today's divers over the age of 60.
In modern times, these women have come to understand that their occupation and role it once played in society has changed significantly. Though they respect their culture, and history, the health problems that come from diving, their ability to send their children to university, as well as the existence of other means of collecting sea food, lead them to believe that allowing their traditional ways to fade is best from them and their families. On the other hand, the local government on Jeju, is doing their best to preserve the Haenyeo culture and inform the world of their unique lifestyle and history. The government has gone as far as to set up a diving school on the island, where they encourage tourists and young Korean women, to attend classes and learn how to dive like the Haenyeo.
Through the art of the moving picture, Kevin and Alex will share with the world an intimate portrait of this fleeting culture, as well as explore the dichotomy that exists between how the traditional divers and the government view the future of the Haenyeo. Regardless of the two differing viewpoints, Kevin and Alex believe that the documentation of the Haenyeo culture is a necessity in terms of preserving the history of Jeju-do and South Korea. This truly unique lifestyle not only shines as a feminine occupation passed on generationally for centuries, but also has the potential to broaden global horizons and shed new light on the human condition.
This film will be shot on the Panasonic AF100, Panasonic GH3, and GoPro Hero 3s.
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