Making its world premiere at the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival, Maria The Korean Bride will be screening on April 8 and 9 at the Regal Hollywood 20. New York City artist Maria Yoon was constantly asked about her relationships and questioned about her marital status. As an unmarried woman and a first generation Korean-American, she decided to tackle the social definitions of marriage, or what we assume it should be, through this artistic multimedia performance.
So, she did marry---50 times in all 50 states. One of her grooms was a Diana Ross impersonator in Las Vegas. Another was "Death." Recently I discovered that she married a childhood neighbor of mine! Her wedding ceremonies also included her marital union with a thoroughbred in Kentucky and a pump jack in Oklahoma.
Sounds crazy, right? You want to shake your head, giggle and dismiss it. I urge that you don't. Through this kitschy approach, the demonstration weddings in the film brought forth the most fascinating discussions. It provokes some truths that are amusing at times and also rather stark. The artistic display of each ceremony supports an astounding and heartwarming beauty in our diversity. I admit I had reservations on what to expect from it, but after viewing it, I was blown away at how incredible this film is. What's more, I got the opportunity to talk more about it with its creator and protagonist.
Robin Punsalan: Prior to making this film, tell me about your work as an artist. I noticed you worked at both the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as the Whitney Museum of Art.
Maria Yoon: Originally a painter, in the last decade my work has become increasingly multimedia and performance-oriented, relying on film and live performances. When not performing, I am a museum educator. I have been in museum education for the last 18 years.
Robin: At first glance, I’m sure many scratch their heads and think, What? She married 50 times? Yet, delve past that and you discover cultural insights, and the statement you explore is quite powerful. For our readers, tell us what birthed this documentary.
Maria: I have my parents to thank for this project. I guess they were worried about my relationship status. Instead of encouraging my career, they thought it was more important for me to get married. So, marriage interrogation began. My dad in particular tried everything from an online dating service to setting me up on a blind date. When everything failed, all communication stopped as well. So, I decided to continue this conversation on my own terms through my art performance. This time it was with fellow Americans across the country.Robin: What were your thoughts on marriage prior to making this film?
Maria: Marriage has always been sacred and important to me.
Robin: This film is nine years in the making and I’m amazed at the labor involved. Where and how did you begin?
Maria: I first began this project in Las Vegas, NV (in 2002), the biggest wedding capital in the world. Ironically, that same year one of my friends won 45 million dollars in the NYS lottery. He jokingly invited me to come to Las Vegas with all paid expenses. Little did he know I took his offer seriously. I guess love was in the air. As shown on film, I had a successful turnout! I married a Diana Ross impersonator named Crystal Woods. Almost everyone gave my wife (or shall I say, my “husband”) a second look when we walked down the aisle.
Robin: While watching, I was reminded of how we approach a body of work (in all the arts) and how the work organically unfolds before us. It has its own life and shapes itself. Those incredible moments are exhilarating when the work pushes out of the "script." What were those moments that internally struck you?
Maria: I am still amazed how big and massive America is and that there are many kinds of people in this world. I am forever thankful that I had a reason to travel. Out of so many participants, Stan stands out to me right now. He was the “pump jack” owner in Oklahoma. If you recall, I ended up marrying a pump jack there. Stan came out of nowhere, just to make sure that I was okay. He ended up taking me to his grandson’s rodeo and even bought me dinner afterwards. Yes, he officially became my father-in-law. I believe the pump jack is still there on Highway 16.
Robin: Along with some silly and delightful parts of the film, there are some really dark moments there for you too. For example, while you were on the factory tour at the Miller Brewery Company, the manager told you to “get out and never come back and go back to wherever you came from." (For readers: Throughout the film, Maria is dressed in a ceremonial Korean wedding gown.)
Maria: I guess she was not very fond of folks coming from overseas. To this day, I often wonder would she have treated me the same if I had arrived at the location dressed like an American in a T-shirt and jeans.Robin: A connectedness and bond was built with all these individuals you met. How does it feel to have such an expanded family from all over the country that you married into?
Maria: I am forever grateful and happy that I have a BIG family now. I always wanted to. I now have a reason to revisit all 50 states!
Robin: How have your thoughts on marriage changed after wrapping the film?
Maria: I just want others to think twice before they say “I do.” It’s about marrying the community in addition to your soulmate.
Robin: It’s odd and crazy to me that we met via Twitter recently and it turns out you married my childhood neighbor. It’s truly a small world. Are you in contact with all of your husbands?
Maria: Yes, I am in contact with most of my spouses. Social media definitely makes it easier.
Robin: A world premiere here at the Sarasota Film Festival has to be thrilling. What other events at our festival are you looking forward to attending?
Maria: I look forward to seeing as many "Through Women’sshorts and features by women filmmakers telling compelling stories about women around the world, as well as the red carpet event and seeing the Opening Night Film, Blackfish.