During the 2012 London Korean Film Festival, we attended the Korean Cinema Forum which spoke a lot about current Korean cinema. With many industry people speaking on the panel at the Forum, such as Jeon Chan-il, programmer of the Busan International Film Festival, it was really interesting to hear their opinions on the current Korean film industry. One hot topic that came up was regarding film festivals and how they have been changing, adapting and progressing over the years, as well as their relevance and purpose within the film industry.
The main purpose of film festivals revolve around two things: cultivating culture and selling movies – Brighthub
According to Brighthub, the most commonly known purpose of Film Festivals is to screen films and help them attract distributors, picking good films and helping them to be discovered and gain an audience. The forum panel talked about how film festivals such as Busan used to be criticised for only having a small role in a film’s success as they weren’t attracting distributor attention and the masses weren’t concerned with festival opinion. Dr. Choi Jin-hee further mentioned that Korean audiences just preferred very commercial films. But recently this has changed and film festivals, such as Busan, have started to have more of an influence on a film’s success, both domestically and internationally. Young people were taking more of a interest in art, but it had to be cool, new, a bit different and less mainstream; what we refer to as “hipster”. Festivals like Busan are beginning to attract the interest of a wider, broader and more international markets, who are trying to appeal to these hipster needs. Being successful in a film festival can now give a film that instant stamp of approval and extra PR buzz, which leads to more people taking notice of films showcased at film festivals, but is it attracting the right kind of attention?
The rise of a film festival’s ‘cool’ factor means the larger corporations have also taken notice of the benefits of festival success for a new release. The panel talked about how even though Masquerade was not shown at the 2012 Busan Film Festival, some of the main actors recognised how important it was to go along and actively promote at this Festival. Corporations were seeing that festivals gave your film credibility, both within the film going audiences and within the film industry, as your film was being praised by critics and film buffs. Film festivals themselves were then benefiting from this corporate interest as the submission of commercial films meant they had big named stars attending to promote films. This presence of celebrities is then good for the Festival hosts as it attracted media attention, meaning film festivals like Busan were gaining more awareness in their home market and with the general Korean public.
Because of this appeal, some say Busan Film Festival is somewhat selling out and becoming too commercialised as they were concentrating more on gaining media interest through star studded corporate films, which already have funding and distributors, over helping the more independent films gain an audience and generate distributors. Kim Young-jin on the Forum panel said he didn’t find The Thieves so special and doesn’t understand why it was so successful at the Busan Film Festival. Could this be because of the star studded cast and hype generated by the large corporations? This media frenzy in return overshadowed the other films being screened, and again disadvantaged the smaller films that needed the help of the festival to reach wider audiences; a big film like The Thieves needed no help with distributions and advertising.
The role of film festivals should be showcasing independent films that people do not have access to; bringing hidden gems to a bigger audience. This way, good films, which otherwise wouldn’t have had the funding to reach a wider audience, have a way to gain a wider reach and a possible distributor. Diversity of films in a festival is one of the ways in which the film industry in general can be kept healthy, allowing independent films to have as much attention as the corporate endorsed projects to ensure a varied market. But film festivals being held over the past few years have experienced a rise of preference in more commercial films, edging out smaller budget and more independent films, defeating one of the original purposes of a film festival.
However, festivals such as the Busan Film Festival also have the opportunity of opening up the world to Korean cinema and in this case, why shouldn’t Korean mainstream films get recognition too? Festivals have helped directors such as Song Il-gon and Kim Ki-duk becoming global Korean film icons, yet they lack recognition at home because they were not what the Korean masses were watching, therefore the global view of the Korean film industry did not match what the South Korean public was actually viewing. Commercial films in general appealed to the masses, meaning it would appeal to the mainstream international audiences, and not only the Asian film buffs. As successful as Kim Ki-duk is, he is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but he and all his art house film friends were becoming the sole representatives of Korean Cinema in the international market, which is far from the truth. So by showing commercial films, the Busan Film Festival was helping South Korea as a whole gain awareness for all different sides of it’s film industry, as well as gaining a much wider and more general audience, not just Kim Ki-duk fans.
The debate got quite heated and there really is no correct answer. As Korean film fans, we rely on film festivals to bring international releases to our big screens, and we were very happy to have the chance to watch The Thieves and Masquerade on the big screen at last year’s London Korean Film Festival. Then we also appreciated that the BFI Lesbian & Gay Film Festival gave us the chance to see Leesong Hee-il’s films, something we would have never been able to access.
The upcoming Terracotta Film Festival seems to have worked out a system to please everyone. Terracotta are one of the pioneering groups that are helping UK audiences gain access to Asian cinema. Just from their 3 Korean film selections alone, they have managed to show audiences what the South Koreans are watching (A Werewolf Boy), the action films Koreans are infamous for (The Berlin File), as well as giving some exposure to lesser known indie cinema in the form of Young Gun in the Time. 2013’s Terracotta Far East Film Festival is larger than ever featuring some of the top main releases from Asia as well as putting a special spot light on Indonesia, a country who’s films have had very little (if any) exposure in the UK, thereby fulfilling the duties of a film festival to help films gain exposure and possible distributors. And if that wasn’t enough Terracotta has also found the time to show some olden oldies from Hong Kong cinema as well as a TERRORcotta all nighter! So make sure you don’t miss out and mark up 6th-15th June 2013 in your diaries now!
So what are your views on film festivals? Does it matter what kind of films are showcased at festivals or is it more about gaining awareness for the industry itself? Does it matter what films are being shown as long as there is a diverse range of films on offer to ensure a healthy film industry? We personally can’t wait for the Terracotta Film Festival this year, as well as the Korean Cultural Centre’s annual London Korean Film Festival later on in the year. What kind of Korean films do you want to see at the many London film festivals happening?