In reaction to protests from specialist exhibitors, the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) has announced it is going ahead with the launch of a new support programme for arthouse film distribution.
The government body says the new programme was devised to “reform” and replace the former independent and arthouse specialist cinema support programme it had in place since 2002.
KOFIC explains that in the more than ten years the former programme was in place, the local exhibition environment has changed. This year at Cannes, market executive director Jerome Paillard noted the greatest surge in buyers was from South Korea.
Speaking to ScreenDaily, a KOFIC spokesperson said: “Recently a lot of arthouse films have been coming out in the market and foreign films have been getting the limelight.
“Some cinemas’ programming would often have popular foreign arthouse films screening in prime time while Korean films would be screening at intervals.
“Some of the cinemas have also been using support funding for operating expenses - as “a means to stay alive” rather than for the films.”
How it will work
With the new programme, KOFIC plans to outsource the selection of 48 Korean arthouse films to be screened at the cinemas at the rate of two per month.
Each cinema, in order to receive support funding, would have to screen 24 of the 48 chosen films a year. (KOFIC had originally suggested having a simple total of 24 selections to screen, but expanded the number at the demand of industry professionals it gathered on June 25 at a closed-door session.)
A main condition is that the cinemas would have to show a chosen film either all day - six screenings - on the weekend, or at primetime six screenings a week.
On Wednesday, a national group of independent and arthouse specialist cinemas issued an appeal, saying the established support programme let them select freely from 300 to 500 arthouse films to screen 219 days a year while that this new one they had been told about would force cinemas across the country to screen the same films uniformly at the same time, taking diversity of choice away from audiences.
The exhibitors ask that KOFIC carry on with the previous programme, considering how far gone the year is.
The appeal also stated outsourcing the selection of approved films seemed a waste of funding and that the scheme would be used to oppress the diversity and independence of filmmakers’ freedom of expression.
“With the controversy over independent films such as The Truth Shall Not Sink With The Sewol and Project Cheonan Ship, you could perhaps see how this government wouldn’t want to give support funding to cinemas and filmmakers that criticize it. It makes you think you should stay quiet,” said an industry professional who asked to remain anonymous.
Exhibitors also found it strange that KOFIC has not asked for any settlement of accounts and evaluation to close last year’s funding programme as they would normally do.
Nan-sook Kim, head of importer/distributor Jinjin Pictures and arthouse cinema Cinecode Sonjae told ScreenDaily: “We don’t understand why they feel the need to outsource to a proxy, and the criteria for the selections is not clear.
“If they really wanted to support Korean films, they could offer incentives to cinemas who did better at planning, publicizing and programming them.”
Would it be worth it?
Kim went on to say that with the new programme, qualifying cinemas would essentially receive $1,770-$2,670 a month, which might be better than nothing but for a place like Cinecode Sonje, it would not be worth the loss of programming autonomy.
Located in Bukchon (the neighborhood in Hong Sangsoo’s The Day He Arrives), the arthouse cinema has recently screened foreign films such as Chef and Mr. Turner, as well as local indie films such as A Dream Of Iron and Non-fiction Diary.
“We have two projectionists working in shifts and three employees in the box office – that support would only amount to about 1/5 of their pay. Then we have the rent, cleaners, electricity and the reservation system’s data processing fees to pay.
“So for our cinema, that support funding wouldn’t come to 15% a month of operation fees. No, we wouldn’t apply for it. Not when we couldn’t select our own programming,” she said, later echoing a hope that KOFIC would display some flexibility and return to the discussion table.
However, a few hours after that interview, KOFIC issued its announcement that it will be moving forward with its new programme.