‘Nam June Paik: Moon Is the Oldest TV’ Debuts at Sundance
Amanda Kim discusses her documentary about the visionary artist, which was acquired by London-based distributor Dogwoof earlier this month.
A still from Nam June Paik: Moon is the Oldest TV by Amanda Kim, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy Sundance Institute.
A documentary about prophetic new media artist Nam June Paik premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Salt Lake City this week.
Nam June Paik: Moon Is the Oldest TV (2023) is the first feature-length film directed by Amanda Kim, a former creative director and producer at Vice Media.
'I started researching him about five years ago after coming across his TV Buddha (1974) piece,' Kim said. 'I fell into an intense internet K-hole because he was so endlessly interesting and deep.'
'The world he envisioned is the world we are living in now and it felt important that my generation should know who he is,' she said.
In an interview with Ocula Magazine last year, curator John Hanhardt said the artist, who imagined a future in which the TV guide was as thick as the phone book, 'would love TikTok'.
Paik (1932–2006) had a knack for communicating his vision of the future in terms that resonated at the time, famously coining the phrase 'electronic superhighway'.
In the documentary, actor Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead, Okja) brings his words to life.
Moon Is the Oldest TV features footage of and interviews with some of the star artists he pulled into his orbit — including David Bowie, Joseph Beuys, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Charlotte Moorman, Yoko Ono, Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, and John Cage.
In researching the film, Kim said her interview with German artist Mary Bauermeister was 'extremely special'.
'Mary understood him deeply and saw his true genius from the '60s,' she said. 'Through Mary, I started to understand the way in which Nam June was telling us to open our eyes and challenge any propagandised doctrine.'
Kim argues that despite their increasingly evident downsides, Paik wanted to demonstrate how 'technologies can be used for improved communication, global connection, and increased empathy.'
'As he says, we should "humanise technology",' Kim said.
In an early review of the film published on RogerEbert.com, Robert Daniels described Moon Is the Oldest TV as 'digestible.' He expressed disappointment with its 'conventionally paced, linear, talking head structure for such an unconventional figure.'
He also noted that the documentary omits uncomfortable details – his father's alleged collaboration with the Japanese during their occupation of Korea, for instance, and the full implications of a neighbour's description of Paik's marriage to artist Shigeko Kubota as 'tumultuous'.
Nevertheless, he said, 'Paik's light-heart spirit does thrum' through the film.
On 9 January, Dogwoof announced that they had acquired Moon Is the Oldest TV for global distribution (excluding North America and South Korea).
'From a huge wealth of material, Amanda has weaved together a fascinating look at a true pioneer whose prophetic vision is now a living reality for the modern world,' said Oli Harbottle, Dogwoof's chief content officer. —[O]