By Dan Landau
Thirteen is an unlucky number for some, but right now for Seung Yeob Lee, thirteen is the number of film festivals that his film “Goose Family,” has been admitted to. At these festivals, Lee has also — so far —won seven awards, including two “Best Director” awards. Maybe thirteen isn’t so unlucky after all.
A 2012 alum of FDU’s College at Florham, Lee wrote, produced, directed, and edited “Goose Family” as his senior thesis film. Loosely based on personal experience, Lee’s film is a thoughtful take on the Korean “goose family” trend.
“Goose families” are split up, with the children living overseas to get an education in an English-speaking country and the father living in Korea working to support himself at home and his family abroad. The mother typically travels between countries to care for her husband and her children. The term “goose family” is derived from the migratory habits of the goose.
“Goose families are very common in South Korea,” says Lee. “The schools in South Korea are very competitive.” Having an English education gives students a competitive edge, so parents make tremendous sacrifices, including splitting up their families, to have their children educated in the U.S.
Lee’s “Goose Family,” follows Jinsoo, the father, who works in Seoul, South Korea, while Shinae, the mother, takes care of their two children in New York City. They have been living this way for two years and they struggle with their separation for financial, emotional and cultural reasons, gradually falling apart.
The film’s style is a blend of fake-documentary and drama. Lee says he chose the pseudo-documentary format “to make it more realistic for an American audience not familiar with Korean culture.” He worked hard to make the film as realistic as possible, writing the dialogue in Korean (with English subtitles) and using Korean actors in the lead roles.
Most of “Goose Family” was filmed in New Jersey. “Since I was filming in New Jersey, I did most of the filming indoors,” says Lee, to make it appear that scenes were actually happening in Korea. The opening scene was filmed in Seoul, but the other external “Korean” scenes were filmed in Korea-town in Flushing, NY.
Lee wrote the screenplay for “Goose Family” in his Production II class with Professor Howard Libov. “Libov gave us an assignment to write a story based on our personal experience,” says Lee. Lee did not come from a goose family per se though. “My family was separated, not at a young age as in the film,” he clarifies, but rather later in life.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Lee moved to Beijing, China when he was 18 and stayed there for two years. He moved to the US for a time, before returning to Korea to perform his mandatory military service. After he was discharged, he moved back to the US in 2008 to complete his college education.
While the film is mostly fiction, Lee says some of the scenes in the film did come from his life experience. In “Goose Family,” Jinsoo has difficulty maintaining two households on his salary, a situation Lee could easily relate to. “I remember my father struggling financially to send money and worrying about the exchange rates,” says Lee.
Lee initially wanted to use a different script that he had written, but Libov (who also acted as his advisor through the thesis process) convinced him to stick with “Goose Family.”
“As soon as I saw the script, I knew this was something special,” says Libov. “I think this is one of the best films we’ve ever made in the film department.”
Lee studied film and Japanese at FDU’s College at Florham and currently lives in Brooklyn.