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In the Absence  cover image

In the Absence 2018

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Grasshopper Film, 12 East 32nd St., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016
Produced by Gary Byung-Seok Kam and Seung-jun Yi
Directed by Seung-jun Yi
Streaming, 29 mins

General Adult
Naval Architecture; Shipwrecks; South Korean Politics

Date Entered: 01/15/2021

Reviewed by Daniel L. Thacker, Reference and Instruction Librarian, Penn State Altoona

In the Absence is a short documentary on the sinking of a South Korean ferry called the MV Sewol. This happened in 2014 when the ferry left the mainland for the island of Jeju. The vessel was carrying 476 passengers and crew, the majority being high school students on a field trip. Over 300 people died when the ship sank. This caused a great public outcry for justice because it was a manmade disaster. Subsequent investigations found negligence and malfeasance on behalf of the crew, the owners and operators of the Sewol, and the South Korean government. Namely the captain of the ship receiving a life sentence and the catastrophe being a contributing factor to the impeachment of the President of South Korea.

The tragedy was documented in real time by radio and video footage from governmental rescue efforts. As well as video, text, and phone calls from the students aboard to their parents. The rest of the story was told by interviews with survivors, parents of the deceased, and civilian divers who helped with recovery efforts. Along with congressional hearings, showcasing the fallout and finding answers to what caused the nautical disaster.

In the Absence was the first South Korean film to be nominated for an Oscar. It did so for the Best Documentary (Short Subject) category, and this is a short film at 29 min. This is the documentary’s strength and weakness. It is pithy and concise, but if you are unaware of the MV Sewol’s sinking, the first viewing will leave you with questions. Therefore, if this used in a Korean Studies class, it would be best used as a conversation starter on the subject or as a supplemental resource if the audience is educated on current South Korean politics. This is also an excellent resource for Policy Studies, Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering students studying risk reduction, evacuation simulation, and safety policies.

In the Absence gets a rating of Highly Recommended due to its use of real time footage to tell the story of the event. It brings an extra layer gravity to the subject matter and that the study of preventing such accidents is of the upmost importance.


AFI Docs Festival Grand Jury Prize for Short Films - 2019; DOC NYC Short Documentary Winner - 2018; Indy Shorts International Film Festival Best Documentary Short – 2019

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