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Korea film fests buy in on pics

Success encouraged by ticket sales

SEOUL — The move into film acquisition and distribution is paying off for South Korea’s biggest film festivals.

Last year, the Jeonju Film Festival picked up Spanish helmer Pere Portabella’s “The Silence Before Bach” and released the film through its distribution arm in October, selling some 6,000 tickets despite the gloom of the local arthouse film market. Encouraged by this success, Jeonju then acquired Japanese helmer Yokohama Satoko’s “Ultra Miracle Love Story,” set for a release later this month, as well as Mexican helmer Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio’s “To the Sea,” which closed the fest last year and will be released in May.

On a roll earlier this year, Jeonju picked up Jean Luc Godard’ “Film Socialism” and Bela Tarr’s “The Turin Horse” at Berlin, where it won the Jury Grand Prix. Those pics are also in the current edition of the Jeonju fest, which kicks off April 28.

“We have to pay screening fees to invite these films to the festival, but we thought it would be better to acquire them and give local audience more of a chance to see those great films, rather than spend money only for temporary screenings at the festival,” says Yoo Un-seong, a fest programmer. “Considering the current (economic) hardships Korea’s arthouse theaters and small buyers (are facing), those films can’t be easily picked up.” Yoo adds that the fest plans to acquire two to three films a year for a dedicated arthouse theater run in Jeonju.

Meanwhile, the Pusan Film Festival has not only changed its name to Busan but is also dipping into film acquisition and distribution.

In March, the Busan fest pacted with China’s Zonbo media to strengthen the distribution potential of films from the two countries.

“Zonbo media is one of our partners in Asia,” says Lee Yong-kwan, new director of the Busan fest. “We’re also talking with other companies from Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia to establish a networked consortium among Asian companies for stable and steady distribution of outstanding films by Asia’s independent filmmakers.”

Lee notes that Busan has set up various programs to support Asian film production, including the Asia Cinema Fund. It is also considering the launch of a cable channel.

But, Lee says, once films are completed, they are seldom seen in Korea. By getting into distribution, “we hope to broaden chances to show them and boost the Asian film industry,” he says.

There’s another motivation: the new Busan Cinema Center. Currently under construction, the $149 million project — a striking building by edgy architectural design firm Coop Himmelb(l)au — will be completed in September and be used as the main festival venue this year. It’s being touted as the biggest cineplex in Asia — and as such, the government-funded facility needs to find ways to use the theaters after the festival is over.

“We’re (trying) to find ways to run the Center … based on public purpose beneficial to Korean audiences and to Asian filmmakers, rather than (for profit),” Lee says.

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