[VIEWPOINT]Does Korea Need More Film Festivals?

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[VIEWPOINT]Does Korea Need More Film Festivals?

I have worked for international film festivals for three years now, and I have heard many criticisms of those events. One of the most common is, "Isn't it wasteful to have three film festivals in Korea?" Isn't it enough, these critics ask, to have, say, only the Pusan International Film Festival? The Jeonju International Film Festival and the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival are too much. There are several reasons for this reaction.

First is the idea that film fairs are only show-offish cultural events created by excessive competition among local governments. They say the festivals themselves are nothing but a waste of public resources by local governments trying to impress their citizens.

Second is the view that movies are low popular culture and do not deserve financial support from the public sector. Those movies that appeal to audiences will survive, and those that fail to earn money will disappear, they say. So be it.

Third is the point of view that movies are for youths only, so supporting a film fair with big burden is not fair. Events that can be enjoyed by all ages should have priority in government support.

Fourth, the critics say, even without film festivals, good movies can reach their audiences through theaters or television.

Fifth, in a small country like Korea, resources should be concentrated on one festival to develop it as a quality festival. Letting several festivals compete will eventually kill all of them.

Those criticisms upset me, but without room to rebut them all, I would like to emphasize the following points.

The three film festivals are neither politically motivated nor badly managed. Movies are not a low form of art; indeed, given Korea's history, they are an important part of our culture.

Korea's movie industry is in a fledgling stage and needs a lot of international experience to grow robustly. And the young generation, the most enthusiastic movie fans, are the pillars that will support the movie industry in the future.

But I am more irritated by the fact that our society is so underdeveloped and blind to the outside world that I am compelled to defend film festivals against such criticism.

Our educational tradition is so narrow that while literature was worshiped as the highest virtue, the rest of the arts were ignored; despite great potential, poor economic conditions barred us from enjoying the culture of images. During our distorted modernization process, politicians oppressed and controlled movies with a barbaric censorship system that led to dismal results. People are hypocritical and fearful, tamed to the bone like a frog in a well. That timidity comes from a lack of experience in enjoying abundance, and upsets me greatly.

In the European Union, more than 250 small and large film festivals are held regularly, and all of these film fairs have international influence based on the active exchange among members of the EU. The association which organizes European film festivals aims to increase the number to 300. They say movie festivals are culturally important and educationally useful.

In Korea, people say three international film festivals is excessive, but foreign movie directors, producers, critics and other movie industry figures have been surprised by the enthusiasm of the young audiences that flocked to the film fairs. These foreign observers say the future of the Korean movie industry is bright. In other words, this outpouring of enthusiasm for movies surprised them. As far as I know, Korea is the only country in the world that has three weekly movie magazines.

Brilliant students are flocking into colleges to major in cinematic disciplines. Many young people understand and discuss the world through movies. Images and language are not separate things. International film festivals are the best ways for the youth to develop their eye for movies.


The writer is the director at Jeonju International Film Festival.

by Choi Min

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