The parlous state of the movie industry
BUSAN - Dark clouds overshadowed the opening of this year’s Pusan International Film Festival. The suicide of one of Korea’s most beloved actresses, a perceived crisis in the nation’s once booming film industry and tensions in the global economy were a distraction that muted the festivities.
A visit to the Asian Film Market, which took place during the festival, seemed to sum up the mood. Last year, 460 film production companies came to Busan - “Busan” was formerly “Pusan” and the film festival retains the old spelling - but this year there were 132. It’s no surprise that fewer distribution deals were struck.
Throughout the festival, one of the hottest topics of conversation was the government’s lax attitude to licensing rights in new media services. Some experts have even suggested that the government is strategically letting unauthorized software exist on the Internet and on mobile services to nurture Korea’s IT industry.
Other experts saw the problem as a crisis of talent, or lack thereof. “Investment has been too hasty in the past and that has caused problems,” said Kim Jin-hae, a film professor at Kyungsung University, who facilitated a talk last Sunday on the state of the domestic film industry. “But I think the problem now is a lack of creativity.”
On top of this, the country’s distribution system and a lack of grants for art house or low-budget films have bankrupted producers of smaller films.
“It’s too bad that the Korean government has no systematic support for art house films in tough times like this,” said Lee Mi-jeong, who works for the distributor Cine-Asie, based in Montreal, Canada. “Korea has to constantly search for new talent to keep the industry alive, like they did with filmmakers such as Kim Ki-duk and Hong Sang-soo, once considered underground artists. Otherwise, there is no way for art house films to survive.”
So urgent was the sense that something had to be done to revive the flagging industry, members of the Korean Film Council and local film industry brainstormed ways to revitalize the sector at an informal talk on the train down to Busan last Thursday. Everyone is spooked by the fall in box office revenue and the sharp reduction in the number of productions, down from 112 in 2007 to 50 so far this year.
So as the train sped south to Busan, Han Sang-jun, the director of the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, pointed out that while the theme of PiFan this year was horror, only one local horror flick, “Death Bell,” was screened.
Kang Han-sub, the chairman of the Korean Film Council, joined in the chorus of gloom, referring to “the industry’s critical state of panic.”
But not everyone is painting such a frantic situation. On the brighter side, experts agreed that despite the overall shortage of Korean films, the quality is better than ever.
“The industry is not in a state of panic,” said Cha Seung-jae, the president of the Korean Film Producers Association during the Sunday conference. “It may be slipping into a coma but it’s not dead yet.”
Despite the dangers of losing consciousness, there were signs of hope during the festival, which closes Oct. 10. One noticeable innovation was an open call for young producers to pitch screenplays to a jury made up of veteran industry insiders, a project initiated by an association of filmmakers called Korea Producers in Focus.
The aim was to strengthen the creative role of producers and get rid of old practices such as the need for a “star name” to get a film financed.
The winning candidates were given a rare chance to request one-on-one interviews with guests and buyers at Pusan Promotion Plan, a pre-market sale connecting directors and producers with potential investors. Five works were chosen including “Very Lovely” by Sin Chang-hwan and “Fly June” by Sun Kyung-hee.
“The winners will face a better chance to work with major investors as they gained some credibility through this [award],” said a male staff member at the Korea Producers Guild of Korea.
There was more good news. At the Asian Film Market. Miro Vision sold the remake rights of “Driving with My Wife’s Lover,” a Korean film by Kim Tae-sik to Circle of Confusion, a production company in Los Angeles.
CJ Entertainment sold the rights of “The Good, the Bad, the Weird” to NonStop, a distributor for Scandinavian regions along with a TV and video package to other areas. In total, deals for 38 Korean films were signed, according to an official wrap-up report released Monday.
By Park Soo-mee, Lee Eun-joo Staff Reporters [firstname.lastname@example.org]