Documentary film festival gamble pays off again

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Documentary film festival gamble pays off again

It was an unparalleled risk the company took. Months before the EBS International Documentary Festival began, its organizer, Paul Jeongkie Kim, was close to airing an apology to its audience. The festival caused sensation in Korea last year for canceling 80 percent of the station's daily programs in order to broadcast documentaries for 17 hours a day, all week.
It was a radical decision for an organization that was originally established to provide educational programming for adults and high school students. The consequences of a failure could have harmed the company’s relationship with its advertisers and upset its main audience.
Luckily the festival received enough applause from viewers and critics last year to hold a second annual event.
Sandra Ruch, the director of the International Documentary Association dubbed the EBS festival as “one of the most innovative new festivals in the world.” One local newspaper described it as “a cultural experiment.”
The festival, which opened on Monday, titled “Peace and Life in Asia” is being shown on EBS TV while selected works are being shown at E-Space, a performance hall located at EBS headquarters in southern Seoul.
“We wanted to stress the importance of documentaries as a statement on the social conditions of our world," Mr. Kim says. “We thought the company should provide an alternative to the increasingly commercial content of Korean television programs.”
The festival began as a way to enhance the quality of increasingly commercial content on Korean television, and was inspired by producers who believed that a good documentary could change a person’s life and the world as well.
Of the 98 world documentaries being shown this year, the focus is on social justice and freedom in Southeast Asia.
The festival's "Best of the Best" section features an impressive program of contemporary documentaries, including “Shape of the Moon,” this year’s Grand Jury Prize winner at Sundance. The film documents the religious conflict within an Indonesian family where the mother is Christian and the children are Muslim.
The opening film by Yoon Jung-Hyun, “Another Land for Survival, Mae Sot” chronicles the life of Burmese refugees in the Mae Sot camp. “Checkpoint” involves military checkpoints in the West Bank.
Enthusiasm from last year’s event is reemerging among the local audience this year. Up to 80 percent of the seats for E-Space have been booked. About 15 to 20 percent of the seats will be saved for walk in visitors on a first come first serve basis during the festival, which ends on Sept. 4.
"In a sense, the festival reveals a Korean way of doing a business,” Mr. Kim says. “We weren’t sure about the outcome, but we started anyway. If we had thought about the outcome so carefully, we wouldn’t have done it.”

by Park Soo-mee

Most films in the festival are in English or have English subtitles. To get to E-Space at EBS's headquarter, get off at Maebong Station (line #3). The building is located right across the street from Bennigan's. Documentaries will also air on EBS's main television broadcast station (channel 13 in the Seoul area). Attendance is free, but make reservations in advance. Registration and scheduling information can be found at For more information, call 02-526-2122.
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