Filmmaker-turned-administrator Oh Seok-geun has been appointed chairman of the Korean Film Council, South Korea’s film industry regulator and funding body. The position had been vacant for six months following the resignation in dubious circumstances of former chairman Kim Sae-hoon.
During the former chairman’s term, Kofic experienced a number of problems: Kim had been accused of embezzling public money and of colluding with South Korea’s impeached former President Park Geun-hye, who wanted the film industry to serve her nationalist agenda.
Park and her supporters, including former culture minister Cho Yoon-sun and chief of staff Kim Ki-choon, were involved in the notorious blacklist that named almost 9,000 cultural figures deemed to be anti-government. The list was circulated in an effort to exclude artists and companies from funding programs operated by state-controlled agencies, including Kofic. Kim resigned after President Moon Jae-in replaced Park.
In that context, the recent appointment of the new chairman marks the end of the blacklist era. New Kofic chairman Oh supported Moon during his run-up to the election, and was once the first general manager of the troubled Busan Intl. Film Festival back in the 1990s.
“My priority [as the new chairman] is to help Kofic regain its lost trust of the film industry,” said Oh at the time of his appointment. “I will reexamine the funding programs and policies that were unfairly handled during the past government. Programs that were maladapted to exclude certain types of films such as independent films will surely be redesigned.”
Kofic’s labor union has requested that Oh build the environment where staff can work with professionalism, so that the government’s interference in the org’s decision-making process through blacklisting and censorship do not happen again.
A long-term friend of the late Kim Ji-seok, deputy director and chief programmer of the Busan fest, who passed away during last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Oh also mentioned that he would help BIFF recover.
BIFF had been in political trouble with the previous government since the then-festival director Lee Yong-kwan decided to screen “The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol,” a documentary on the sinking of a ferry with school children in it, against the previous government’s wishes. Busan Mayor Suh Byung-soo, who was aligned with the previous government and sat on the fest board, had objected to the screening as it showed the authorities in a bad light. Lee was ousted in 2016.
Following the new president’s inauguration and Oh’s appointment, the Busan fest also reinstated Lee as the organizing committee chairman. Oh and Lee joining the troubled organizations as new leaders under the new government is interpreted as a symbolic victory for the Korean film industry that has resisted the political pressure of the previous government.
Before he joined Kofic, Oh had served as the head of the Busan Film Commission, which has played a key role in forming and operating the Asian Film Commissions Network.
“During my term at the Busan Film Council, heads of film industry-supporting agencies in Asia wanted Korea to lead film education and filmmaking activities in the territory … I will support the Korean film industry so that it can expand its market to wider Asia and revitalize regional co-production,” says Oh.