Call for 'A Fire of Straw' To Touch Off CreativityPierre Rissient is Senior Advisor of the Asian Film Festival in Deauville and former program organizer of the Cannes Film Festival
IHT-JAI: People in the mainstream movie industry say it is now "trendy" to talk about Korean films and Thai movies are also becoming fashionable. Do you agree?
Rissient: I think the idea is exaggerated. Westerners consider Asian movies as neglected part of the film culture, and so they think they have a chance to discover something new. For them it is like a new frontier in the industry. I'd like to focus more on the creative productivity in Asian countries. In the late '70s and '80s, the Philippines reached the height of its creative productivity. In the mid-'80s, the same thing was happening in Taiwan, and some movie writers in New York found Korean films interesting because they were looking for something new. I've found 2 or 3 Thai films made by new directors relatively interesting, but let me tell you, larks do not make the spring. I believe they are not very significant at the moment.
There are some important Korean directors, though. I've seen a few of Im Kwon-taek's work, "Ssibaji," "Seopyeonje" and "Chunhyangjeon," his best-known film. The work of Hong Sang-soo and Lee Chang-dong is also significant. A retrospective screening of Shin Sang-ok's work was held in Deauville, Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which I found tremendously interesting. In fact, for the last three years, Korea has been in the spotlight. This is due to a combination of existing directors, actors and new ones.
IHT-JAI: You know Im Kwon-taek's "Chunhyangjeon" commercially failed in Korea.
Rissient: "Moby Dick" wasn't read much at the time when it was written, but it's a universal classic now. Stendahl's "The Charterhouse of Parma," French writers Balzac, Merimee, Gautier and a little bit later Baudelaire and Flaubert, were all not appreciated in their time. Works which are not commercially successful at the time of their production are not necessarily unappreciated. It's not just the matter of taste; it's a matter of good taste and bad taste. Some people are more gifted in judging. The mind of the judge has to be based on integrity, insight and strength. And being critical also means being accurate.
IHT-JAI: What do you think will happen to Korea next?
Rissient: I wish there would be "a fire of straw" in Korea. The government should bear the responsibility to maintain the fire. It should not only support but also stimulate the industry. It has to contribute to creativity by having the right people in charge of things. Most governments don't support creative industries for the right reasons. They do it because people are into ingratiation and pandering to trends. Often they try but are confused.
IHT-JAI: What do you think of the Korean films featured in this festival?
Rissient: "JSA" is a strong, spectacular film. It is smartly produced and intelligently managed. Although it's not as artistic as other Korean films, it would be ridiculous and silly to say that it isn't successful. Cinema is after all show business, a form of entertainment, so "JSA" is an important achievement for Korea. Its existence and success are not owed to the government but to the spontaneous reaction by the audience. "My Heart" is very sincere and heartfelt, but to young people these days it may seem old-fashioned, which makes it difficult for it to succeed. This is where the government has an important role. It must respond by contributing to Bae Chang-ho who produced such a great film. He is a talented man. One commercial failure means nothing; it could easily be overcome if the government supported his creativity. I'm happy that he has started on a new movie and strongly wish that he makes a comeback. Although I haven't seen it yet, "The Foul King" seems full of vitality, and I am looking forward to watching it.
IHT-JAI: What do you suggest to those who make small budget films and want to make it big in the film industry?
Rissient: You watch the film first. If you feel that there is talent in the film, or answer favorably to the simple question, "What is in this film?" then you are onto something. If you instinctively know the movie has something to inspire, you have found something you know you can work with. But, few movie makers have both inspiration and integrity. It is a pity that they think about becoming rich, famous and powerful first. You need to think film, film, film! Before, during and until you finish making the film. It is difficult job that requires a lot of persistence.