Korean Filmmakers Catch 'Digital Fever' - Will the Public Follow?

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Korean Filmmakers Catch 'Digital Fever' - Will the Public Follow?

Digital filmmaking is booming. Around the world, it is the hot topic of conversation among filmmakers and vendors of hardware and software.

Movies like the low-budget box office sensation "Blair Witch Project" (shot on Hi-8 millimeter video and 16 mm film, edited on a computer), the Cannes Film Festival winner "Dancer in the Dark" (shot on DV), and the soon-to-be-released "Star Wars: Episode II" (98 percent shot on HDTV) have given high-tech equipment salesmen the perfect excuse to say that "film is dead."

Now "digital fever" has caught on in South Korea. At the 2000 Pusan International Film Festival, three digital feature films by major directors had their premieres: Kim Hee-jin's "Pumildong Blues," Park Chull-soo's "Bongja" and Im Sang-soo's "Tears." All were filmed with low-cost digital cameras, edited on desktop computers and then converted to 35 mm film.

Other digital films in the works are director Moon Seung-wook's "Butterfly" (6 mm digital) and Park Ki-hyung's mystery thriller "La Femme," to be shot on high definition, the upgraded broadcasting sysem.

Why this sudden outpouring of digital content? Well, digital filmmaking cuts production costs because equipment and tape stock are cheap. A director can theoretically make a film with a small crew who will work faster and more efficiently, shortening the production period. Moreover, post-production (editing and sound mix) can be done on a low-cost effects-driven desktop computer - all attractive options for low-budget filmmakers.

While the advantages of digital filmmaking are many, there are drawbacks.

Digital video-to-film transfers are expensive, 6 mm digital video does not have the resolution or clarity of film and these gritty-looking low-budget digital feature films are a hard sell for normal distributors. Fortunately for these filmmakers, many festivals are welcoming digital films.

The Sundance and Cannes festivals showed digital films this year. In Korea, the Pusan, Puchon and Chonju international festivals also featured digital films. But the only festival devoted to digital films is RESFEST 2000, where celluloid takes a back seat.

Running at the Ho-Am Art Hall in Seoul on Thursday through Sunday, RESFEST (www.resfestkorea.com) is an international touring festival featuring a variety of digital films (shorts, features, music videos, animation and Internet movies).

The festival is being held in five major cities: Montreal, London, Tokyo, Osaka and Seoul.

The big question is whether the Korean public is ready to accept digital films. Perhaps. Time will tell.

In the documentary "Hearts of Darkness," director Francis Ford Coppola predicts: "Some day a fat girl in Ohio will make a beautiful film with her father's camcorder."

It seems Korean film directors have jumped in first and taken the camcorder away from the fat girl.

The writer is a professor in the Film Department at the Seoul Institute of Arts.

by Soh Jae Young

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