Film industry worrying about quotasThis year seems to great one for Korean cinema, especially in the global film scene. Director Park Chan-wook won the Grand Prix award for “Old Boy” at the Cannes International Film Festival earlier this year. Last week, the animated film “Oseam” received the grand prize at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival.
At home, however, things do not look so rosy for the local film industry. The president and culture minister recently announced tentative plans to dismantle the screen quota system.
To local filmmakers, the quota system has been the foundation for homegrown movies, giving them a chance to compete against big-budget, Hollywood blockbusters.
The current system requires movie theaters to allocate two-fifths of their total screening days to Korean films, or 146 days out of the year.
The quota has long been under pressure from outside and inside the country. In 1998, the United States requested the removal of the quota system during the negotiations for the Korea-U.S. Bilateral Investment Treaty and demanded less governmental regulation of the Korean film market.
These days, the United States is seeking a reduction of the screen quota, a move that is also supported by the Foreign Ministry and Finance Ministry.
Earlier this month during a dinner party at the Blue House, President Roh Moo-hyun asked “Old Boy” director Mr. Park how well he thought Korean cinema would hold up if the screen quota were abolished.
This was enough to create a uproar in the local movie industry, and a few of its key players in favor of keeping the screen quota asked for a meeting with Culture Minister Lee Chang-dong, a former director, last Friday.
As they left the meeting, members of the Coalition for Cultural Diversity in Moving Images, made up of local actors, directors and producers, did not look happy.
In the past, the Culture Ministry was the only government body in favor of keeping the system as it is. But at Friday’s meeting, Mr. Lee told the coalition, “It is time to review and reduce the screen quota.”
Movie insiders speculate that Mr. Lee, once an enthusiastic member of the coalition, may have changed his longtime position after receiving pressure from the Foreign and Finance ministries, as well as the president’s announcement that he supports a reduction in the quota.
An official at the Culture Ministry said last Friday at a press conference, “The screen quota at the moment allocates 40 percent [for local films] and the United States asks for 20 percent. Maybe there is a happy medium between the two numbers.”
Some observers say that lowering the screen quota won’t harm the local movie industry, which has been enjoying a renaissance over the last few years. Currently, local films make up 40 percent of the market share on average.
Coalition members aren’t giving up, though. They held an emergency meeting yesterday evening to figure out a way to fight the government’s plan to reduce the quota. They will meet again on Tuesday.
by Chun Su-jin, Lee Young-ki