Having two years ago shaved their heads in protest, Korean activists belonging to the Coalition for Cultural Diversity In Moving Images (CDMI) are now seeking more pragmatic means of combating Hollywood domination of their local film industry.
CDMI general director Gi-Hwan Yang used the Venice film festival as a high profile platform from which to seek international support for his campaign to maintain Korea's Screen Quota system.
"Many investors, producers and directors fear for their livelihood in the face of the threat from Hollywood. This is not about forcing people to watch Korean films, but it is an effective defence against monopoly powers." said Yang. "It is imperative for the global film community to join forces and establish an International Coalition to Protect Cultural Diversity in Moving Images."
The Screen Quotas, which were developed in 1993 and limit the exhibition of foreign films to a maximum of 149 days per year on each screen, may be under threat from pressures within the industry and from greater inter-governmental forces.
Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association, recently visited Korea and called for the abolition of the Screen Quotas, arguing that they are a trade restriction targeted against Hollywood. The CDMI, which argues in favour of a cultural exception in international trade, also fears that the Screen Quotas will be swept away as part of a wider package of economic trade reforms ushered in by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Yang points to Korean films' share of their home market growing from 16% in 1993 to 36% last year as evidence that the Screen Quotas are effective. He says that in the absence of government financial aid for film, other Asian countries would like to develop similar quota systems of their own.
UIP chief Paul Oneile said that Korea is not being singled out for pressure, but that he remains opposed to quotas. "We only do a small amount of business in Korea. It is a difficult market, which only allows a little upside on each film. Taiwan, which has done away with restrictions, is now booming." And Oneile also argues that the development of multiplexes would provide more screens for Korean films.
Observers say that exhibition concerns have threatened to pull out of Korea or limit their investment in the country unless the Screen Quotas are abolished. But Yang says that locally and foreign-financed multiplex building is continuing apace. He also points to a recent $200m long-term investment in Korean distribution company Cinema Services, made by UK-US finance house Warburg Pincus. Warburg apparently felt that with the protection to local product offered by the Screen Quotas, Korea was a viable long-term market.
Some observers suggest that, were it not for the forthcoming WTO round, both sides could find a compromise. This could even allow the quotas to stand little changed. The system already allows significant leeway as to which days local films need to be screened. Further flexibility could be built into the system if the quotas were applied per complex, rather than on a screen-by-screen basis.