Crisis of Independent Films

Korean Film Commission supports only 24 movies per year, according to new rule 김강산, 이도현, 이훈기, 이정하l승인2015.09.01l수정2015.09.02 17:19l340호 4면

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  The passion for movies in Korea is great. One in five people watch a movie per month. However, these statistics are with regards to commercial movies, while interest in independent films is significantly lower in comparison. Support for independent filmmaking is also lacking. Even multiplex cinemas rarely screen independent films. For example, even though ‘Diving Bell’, a film about the Sewol ferry disaster, earned a lot of attention and high praise, it was not screened in any multiplex theater. ‘Cheonan worship’, another film on the topic, was only screened because producers borrowed the movie theater. So why do independent movies have so much trouble getting attention and even being screened properly?

  Independent films are known as ‘Indies’. Unlike commercial movies whose primary aim is to secure profit, Indies focus on the artist's intended message and they are different in terms of the types of film and production methods. Therefore, the word ‘independent’ in the case of indies mean an independence from a capital and distribution network. As a result of this independence, the topics they can deal with tend to be riskier than your normal commercial movie. However, despite the reservation rates for tickets to independent movies such as ‘Diving Bell’ being extremely high, it still couldn’t secure a showing in any multiplex. The film was scheduled for a screening, but for some reason, it suddenly was cancelled.

  Unlike multiplex theaters, such as CGV and Lotte cinema, independent cinemas have no problems screening these movies. Independent cinemas are known for showing artistic and independently-produced films that are often ignored by multiplex theaters.

▲ Cinecube Gwanghwamun (Movie Theater)

  The Dankook Herald (DKH) visited some independent cinemas, including Art House MoMo, Film Forum, and Indiespace to interview these audiences and employees of those theaters. First, the DKH asked viewers why they opted to watch a film at an independent cinema over a multiplex one. Most people said independent theaters are quieter places where they can concentrate more on the movies. Viewer Hwang Eun-mi said she enjoy watching movies at independent theaters because she can watch a variety of different films. “Multiplexes only play about three movies over and over again. Their goal is to earn profit. I can’t watch the movies I want at multiplex theaters,” she said.

▲ Joe Hyun-ki (Chief Programmer, Flim-Forum)

  The DKH asked if there were any drawbacks to viewing films at independent theaters. “I think that because the number of theatres is so small and they usually are located in one place, people who live far away find it hard to watch independent movies. However there is a solution. These days, local governments are attempting to invigorate small businesses related to humanities, so I think they should focus on organizing cultural programs such as the promotion of artistic and independent films. It would help people watch a variety of movies based on the recommendations of professionals,” she said.

  Recently, the Korean Film Commission decided to limit the number of movies that they support to 24 movies per year. The DKH asked her opinion about this rule change. “I think it is wrong. The plan spoils the diversity of movies available and deprives people of an opportunity to choose from a variety of films. It will also promote the tendency to produce films for commercial success rather than for art,” Hwang Eun-mi mentioned regarding the rule change.

▲ Art House MoMo (Movie Theater)

  The DKH visited Film-Forum located in Seodaemun-gu and interviewed Joe Hyun-ki (Chief Programmer, Film-Forum). The DKH asked about the differences between multiplex and independent theaters. “Above all things, independent theaters show a variety of movies. People, who want to see movies that are not shown in multiplex theaters, look to us for their films. Also, each independent theater focuses on something different. Film-Forum pursues films related to Christianity and art. People who like Christian or art films will frequent the Film-Forum theater. We usually have thirty to forty viewers for a film,” he answered.

  “Unlike multiplex theaters, we are independent, artsy film theatres. We can select movies that are not shown in multiplex theaters. That’s often the case, but not always. For example, the movie ‘Noah’ was shown at a multiplex cinema and at Film-Forum because the main content of the story related to Christianity. So, we screened that movie. In other words, people saw the value of the movie itself,” he mentioned regarding the way they select movies to screen in their theater.

  Mr. Joe explained how to motivate people to visit an independent theater. He said “Frankly speaking, running a cinema on ticket income alone is difficult. There used to be support funding from the Korean Film Commission, but now the funding has been cut off. This has caused many independent theaters to fail. Nevertheless, we found a way to survive by starting a membership program. People who often visit the theater sign up for membership and as a result, they can enjoy benefits like ticket discounts.”

  The DKH met Professor Woo Kung-kwon (Professor, Specialized Graduate School of Movie Content). He said the reason movies like ‘Diving Bell’ do not screen in commercial multiplex cinemas is because the movie has a small reach, making it hard for them to consider screening it in the larger chain theaters.

  The DKH asked him what is needed for an independent movie to become popular. He said “A sense of subject is need, for example the movie ‘Assassination’ has good commercial content, and top stars and equipment. If this were an independent movie, we could argue it has a sense of subject because it related to the ‘independence movement’. Diving bell also has a definite and recognizable sense of subject."

  When asked how he believed the independent movie theaters could be revitalized, he said “There are needs to be an independent film festival. These productions have a chance to be launched into the movie-goers world through the promotion mechanisms of a popular film festival. Independent film producers produce for the arts rather than strictly for commercial benefit, so they don’t often garner the support they need to develop. If there were more supports for the industry itself, the cinemas would be revitalized.”

  The decision to support a limited number of movies is tantamount to stifling freedom of expression and will only lead to growth in the production of movies just for money. Establishing a system that supports independent filmmaking and motivates people to explore controversial ideas and various aspects of culture is a benefit for society. It is also important that the public take an interest in it. If these things were to change, the DKH would hope to see many kinds of film being created steadily and any kind of topic being screened in our multiplex cinemas.

▲ Movie poster of Paulette (French)

김강산, 이도현, 이훈기, 이정하  dkherald@hotmail.com
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