Korean film rises high in a land down underKorea and Australia are celebrating the last stretch of their Year of Friendship, with this year marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, bringing more attention to the second annual Korean Film Festival in Australia (Koffia).
Organized by the Korean Cultural Office in Sydney, Koffia showcased 13 feature films and seven shorts this year. It aimed to show the diversity of Korean cinema today, as well as provide a true Korean cultural experience with industry forums, cultural performances, food tastings and more.
Attendance figures for this year’s festival tripled to almost 4,000, and the festival has expanded beyond Sydney to Melbourne, marking a huge success. After a frantic three weeks of the festival, which ran from late August to mid-September, Kieran Tully, the Koffia marketing manager, was already busy planning for 2012, a year in which he and his staff hope to see the attendance reach the 5,000 mark.
Tully is also the marketing and festivals manager at the Korean Cultural Office Australia. Having worked on about 15 different film festivals around Sydney, he started planning his own Korean film festival in 2009 before getting involved with the Korean Cultural Office.
With a background in mathematics and film, Tully seemed destined to be involved with film in some way.
“While I completed a three-year advanced mathematics degree from the University of Sydney, I ran a DVD store online that imported rare DVDs from Asia and the world to Australia, so the passion and interest [in cinema] was always there. I decided to change my direction in life and followed my passion for cinema, and have enjoyed sharing it ever since for everyone that comes to our festivals or film nights,” he said in an e-mail interview.
He discovered Korean cinema, however, by making his way around other Asian countries. “I am a big fan [of Korean cinema] and have seen around 200-300 Korean films,” he said. “I guess I discovered Korean cinema through being a fan of martial arts films and eventually worked my way through Hong Kong crime, Japanese animation and ended up checking out Korean films. The first film I remember seeing was ‘Volcano High’  probably around 2005.”
Tully was planning to start his own Korean film festival, but was about to give up when he heard that one was already in the making. “I had been researching and planning to set up a Korean film festival for about six months and was using the project as part of my screen culture course at AFTRS, the Australian Film Television and Radio School. I eventually found out that the Consulate General of South Korea in Sydney was planning to launch a festival,” he said.
Eventually, he and the Korean consulate general merged projects and what resulted was the first Koffia in October 2010.
Like most fans of Korean cinema around the world, he only has a tenuous connection to Korea.
“I didn’t have any Korean friends or much knowledge of the country. I am a football fan so naturally I was interested when the World Cup was there but really my only connection would be that I am a massive Manchester United fan and obviously Park Ji-sung would often be interviewed about Korea and his career,” he said. “My entry into Korean culture was directly through film.”
The first festival was a success but wasn’t without teething problems.
“It was really a first-time experiment,” he said. “While overall it was very successful, some areas we got things right and some areas we got things wrong.”
This year was more professional, including first-ever media launches and press conferences, he said.
“We have also expanded to two cities, now taking place in both Sydney and Melbourne, both of which we run from our Sydney office so it’s definitely a more widespread event. We have tripled our screenings, so Koffia 2011 was both bigger and better compared to our first outing,” he said.