Berlin Spotlight on Korean-American Filmmaker

Korean-American director Dennis Lee.

Korean-American director Dennis Lee has become, in Lord Byron’s words, “famous overnight” at the Berlin International Film Festival. His “Fireflies in the Garden” starring Julia Roberts was screened at the Berlinale Palast, the main venue, on Sunday at 10:30 p.m., a coveted time slot for every filmmaker. Tickets sold out already three days earlier despite the size of the theater — it has 1,600 seats.

Having surprised the world by being invited to the competition of the one of the world’s three leading film festivals with his feature film debut, the rookie director is fully booked for interview after interview with reporters from around the world on Sunday and Monday.

Roberts is not the only Hollywood star in the film. Other big names include Ryon Reynolds, Willem Dafoe, Emily Watson and Carrie-Anne Moss. They all said they agreed to appear in the film because they were deeply moved by the screenplay, which the director himself wrote. In an interview, Lee stressed several times that his work is a film not just for Julia Roberts but for everyone. But the gleam in his eyes is unmistakable when he recalls the night of Dec. 31, 2006 when he got a call from the star. Thinking that trying wouldn’t do any harm, he had sent her a copy of the screenplay but was stunned to receive the call saying “yes,”he said. Roberts was pregnant during the shoot and gave birth to her third child in June last year.

Lee was 29 when he enrolled in the master’s course in film studies at Columbia University in New York after studying politics at Chicago University. His maternal uncle is novelist Choi In-ho. Asked if he thinks literary talent runs in the family, he just nods, smiling.

A story of the love between family members facing an unexpected tragedy, the work is semi-autographical. Lee confesses he found it very difficult to come with the loss of his mother, who died in a traffic accident eight years ago. The film, which begins with the scene where the mother (Julia Roberts) is involved in a traffic accident, is dedicated to the memory of his mother. “It seems that the only thing that lasts forever in life is parents’ love for their children. I dedicate the film to my deceased mother,” he says.