Film associations and companies involved in paving the way for Korean indie cinema are celebrating their 20th year anniversary. The Association of Korean Independent Film & Video, gathering creative enthusiasts, and the leading Korean indie production and distribution company, INDIESTORY, were both founded in 1998, while the Jeongdongjin Independent Film Festival, an annual summer refuge for indie filmmakers, has celebrated this year its 20th edition since its inception in 1999. Through the prism of these three organizations that served as pillars for the indie scene since the roaring Renaissance period of Korean cinema in the mid-90s, we take a closer look at two decades of Korean indie film history. A platform for solidarity between indie filmmakers, The Association of Korean Independent Film & Video
In its founding declaration, The Association of Korean Independent Film & Video, established on September 18, 1998, defined the term ‘independent film’ as: “films that encourage the audience to see the world in a new way, to dream of a better self and believe in a better society”. By connecting their members, creating new policies and strengthening solidarity between indie films to producing, distributing, conducting research and educational training, the association’s scope of activities embraced everything related to indie films. Striving to serve as a platform where “commercial and indie films can connect”, the association has been open to all individuals and groups that share this same goal.
Film festivals offer an invaluable space for indie film production and distribution to strive in. The association has a long history of providing indie filmmakers the support for creativity and communication channels they need through their own festivals. Since 2001, the Seoul Independent Documentary Film Festival showcases experimental documentaries and since 2002, the Seoul Independent Film Festival has served as a springboard for talented filmmakers like Kwak Kyung-taek and Yim Soon-rye. The association also took the initiative to open the non-profit public media center ‘MediAct’ in 2002. MediAct has been supporting creative activities in the visual arts field through renting out the film and video equipment free of charge or for a small fee.
In 2007, the association’s independent film distribution support center opened the first independent film theater ‘INDIE SPACE’ and established an independent screen and distribution network for the indie film industry. INDIE SPACE was forced to close briefly in 2009 when government funding was put to a stop but reopened as a private-run independent film theater in 2012. Likewise, despite the challenges, INDIE SPACE has continued to serve as a crucial agit for the indie scene by offering a space to premiere and screen non-mainstream films.
The association has also been encouraging independent filmmakers through a number of annual awards including “Best Indie Film of the Year’, ‘Indie Filmmaker of the Year’, and ‘Best Indie Film Critique of the Year’. In addition, each time the film industry was caught up in major film-related controversies such as the blacklisting of professionals in the cultural field, the association has been more than proactive, making statements and taking actions in its endeavor to create a fair environment for the industry. The Association of Korean Independent Film & Video continues its quest to introduce Korean indie films through various channels including, since 2014, an online short film platform sponsored by online search engine portal ‘Naver’.The Most Enjoyable Indie Summer Festival, Jeongdongjin Independent Film Festival
Created by a collaboration of The Association of Korean Independent Film & Video and the Gangneung CinemaTheque, the Jeongdongjin Independent Film Festival aimed to serve as an ‘alternative, independent, exciting’ film festival and is now embracing its 20th year of existence. The festival, which has grown into one of the leading indie film festivals, along with the Seoul Independent Film Festival and the Mise-en-scène Short Film Festival, attracted around 7,600 moviegoers this year, its largest audience ever, and proved once again its reputation of most enjoyable summer festival among the indie film scene.
Breaking down barriers with the public through its outdoor screenings and Q&As, the Jeongdongjin Independent Film Festival is famous for bringing the audience and the filmmakers together. The ‘Cling-Clang Coin Awards’ where the viewers get to vote for their favorite films with their petty cash is to name one. This prize is awarded not according to the total amount of money, but to the number of coins used to vote for the most entertaining film screened that day. The total number of coins is offered as a cash prize to the winning film. Numerous films including Woo Moon-gi’s The King of Jokgu (2014), Moon So-ri’s The Best Director (2015) and Kim In-seon’s Wednesday Prayer Group (2016) were recognized for their outstanding qualities by fellow filmmakers and the audience and gratified with this award.
When the festival held its first edition, the Gangneung area was considered a wasteland for films. Two decades of operating the Jeongdongjin Independent Film Festival has now transformed the place into a ‘City of Independent Films’. As a reason to why and how the festival managed to maintain its unique character, Festival Director Park Kwang-su explained in an interview with Independent Film Interview Magazine NOW, “We had several opportunities to change but every time we were faced with a choice, we went for ‘Just Like Now, Just Like Every Time’”. The First Korean Independent Film Production and Distribution Company, INDIESTORY
Korea’s first independent film production and distribution company, INDIESTORY, was founded in 1998, the same year The Association of Korean Independent Film & Video was established. INDIESTORY was born out of a deep reflection between core member of the non-profit group CinemaTheque Seoul Art Cinema, Stanley KWAK and The Association of Korean Independent Film & Video on the distribution of indie films. INDIESTORY has paved the way to create diverse channels for showcasing indie films, from theatrical releases to community screenings as well as through the ancillary market. Furthermore, the company has continued to attend foreign film festivals and markets to promote Korean indie films through a focus on marketing and sales. In 2009 INDIESTORY rewrote the history of indie feature films with the distribution of the documentary film Old Partner (2009). As a non-mainstream documentary feature, the film was initially released on 6 screens but thanks to a powerful word-of-mouth, ended up getting up to 274 screens, scoring a total of 2.93 million viewers and KRW 19.2 billion (approx. USD17.2 million) in box office revenues, raising in the meanwhile the public’s awareness to the concept of ‘indie films’.
INDIESTORY, without being too hung up on its commercial success, continued showcasing works that were both entertaining and meaningful such as Jiseul (2013) and The Dinner (2014) (distributed films) as well as Worst Woman (2016) and Queen of Walking (2016) (produced and distributed films). The head of INDIESTORY, Stanley KWAK, explained in an interview with the Korean Film Council’s KoBiz, “Apart from the entertaining or box office value of a film, we try to see whether we are doing something worthwhile for the development of the independent film community.” Looking Forward to the Next 20 years
Independent films strive in nature to set itself apart from capital, power, and conventional film language. Paradoxically, political and economic factors have constantly impeded the growth of the Korean indie film community. Thanks to these three entities, as well as the indie film community’s tight solidarity, the Korean indie film scene was able to sustain itself throughout the rocky past 20 years. And this is exactly why we can look forward to seeing what those independent film associations, companies, festivals and filmmakers who have towed the qualitative growth of Korean cinema have in store for the next 20 years.
By Kim Su-bin, Cine21 reporter
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