Too many film festivals Kim Byung-jae The author is a member of the film division of the Cultural Freedom Action. More than 220 film festivals are held across Korea every year. Apart from the established and competitive ceremonies like Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), Jeonju International Film Festival, and Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, there are lesser known ones like the Muju Film Festival, Mokpo National Road 1 Independent Film Festival, and the East Film Festival held in the easternmost island of Ulleungdo. The annual number goes up to 224 when counting all the film events hosted by district, county and city administrations across the country, on top of the 41 film festivals backed by the state agency Korea Film Council (Kofic). Local governments vie for film festivals as they are an easy sell. Movies are a popular content and a festival can draw in a large audience through the invitation of celebrities and entertainers. They can bring a greater value-added outcome through a modest budget. But the abundance produces side effects. The festivals held in the mountainous areas of PyeongChang, Jecheon, Jeonju, and Ulju are on the brink of collapse or have stopped due to the controversy over their role, budgetary waste, and a lack of public attention. The PyeongChang International Peace Film Festival launched in 2019 under the Moon Jae-in administration was suspected of a political motive. It mostly showcased North Korean films with little relevance to the history and people of the Gangwon province. The festival cost 8.45 billion won ($6.2 million) over the past four years, but it was mostly celebrated by a select group of filmmakers with interest in North Korean affairs. The Gangneung International Film Festival also held in Gangwon was scrapped, after spending 3 billion won, due to poor showing. The Jecheon festival’s organizing committee faced controversy over moral hazards including accounting fraud and slack management. The central government, both liberal and conservative, annually allocated a total average of 5.3 billion won a year, including 1.28 billion won for the BIFF in 2022, separately from local governments’ subsidies. But how much the exponential growth in the festivals contributed to the advance in Korean cinema and cultural welfare of local residents is doubtful. The organizers of the so-called Big 3 major festivals in Busan, Jeonju and Bucheon agree that film festivals have become saturated. The events are causing more harm than good due to a shortage of experts, a skirmish with contract-based staff demanding their conversion to permanent status, and competition between festivals and conflicts with hosting governments, not to mention insecure funding. And yet, film-related organizations have been protesting the cut in subsidies, citing its negative impact on the film industry. The economy has been doing poorly on the double whammy of sluggish demand at home and abroad due to the global economic slump. The Yoon Suk Yeol administration has been maintaining a tightening of fiscal policy. The budget for the Kofic fell to 85 billion won this year from 110 billion won last year and will further be slashed to 73.4 billion won next year. The cut means that Kofic will have to cut its spending by 40 to 50 percent on all of its projects. This means festivals must seek greater support from local governments or make profit on their own. The number of festivals should be cut first. Demanding a subsidy while the country is on a tightened budget is ludicrous. The biggest BIFF is held annually on the 1.3 billion-won funding from the Kofic and 6 billion won from the Busan Metropolitan government, as well as its own for-profit businesses. The organizer of the BIFF must try to enlarge its own business or support from the local government instead of relying on national funding. The upsurge in over-the-top streaming services through the momentum of Covid-19 also calls for changes to film festivals. The poor audience turnout for “The Moon” and other films released during the long Chuseok holidays suggests that moviegoing has been on a decline since the pandemic. Festivals depending on crowds are no longer ideal for film promotion. European countries like France and Italy with their strong cinematographic traditions hold many film festivals, but not as many as Korea. Before demanding government support, the industry must examine the problem with local film festivals. Festivals without any regard for the people of the area are a sheer waste of money. Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

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