×

Korea’s Film Industry Struggles to Protect Freedom of Expression

Censorship issues have led to public protests

Freedom of expression erupted as a big issue in the Korean film industry in 2015.

The dialogue was triggered by the Busan Intl. Film Festival’s selection of ferry-sinking documentary “The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol,” about the MV Sewol, which capsized off the Korean coast carrying 476 people. The April 2014, tragedy in which 304 passengers, mostly students, and crew died, became a national scandal with finger-pointing in all directions.

Conservative Busan mayor Seo Byeong-soo had requested that the film’s screenings be cancelled, but the festival went ahead. Since then, BIFF has been confronted with a series of challenges, including audits carried out by the city and drastic cuts to its budget by the Korean Film Council. The city has also repeatedly called for the resignation of fest topper Lee Yong-kwan.

When the conflict first arose, local film industry groups formed the Pan-Film Industry Emergency Committee to Defend Freedom of Expression and supported the festival, calling for the city to retract its request and stop censoring the festival screenings. It was the first time that mass solidarity was seen in the Korean film industry since the screen quota protests of 2006.

Sectors of the international film industry also joined the movement. Dieter Kosslick of the Berlinale said in a message, “Never in my 14 years, would (the government and the city of Berlin) have interfered in our program, even if we had shown films they didn’t like. … A film festival and a curator have to be independent.”

In July, the appointment of actress Kang Soo-youn as BIFF co-director seemed to have concluded the months-long saga, and the 20th edition of the festival wrapped up with record attendance.

In December, however, the city of Busan accused Lee of paying illicit sponsorship fees. Lee and BIFF claim that such an accusation is revenge for screening the documentary and that paying sponsorship fees is normal business practice.

Local and international film industries are showing their support of BIFF, which, over the years, has screened many politically charged films.

“BIFF has supported and premiered three of my films including ‘7 Letters’ and ‘To Singapore, With Love,’ which was banned in Singapore,” said Singaporean documentary director Tan Pin Pin on social media. “Asia needs a safe haven for the rest of us.”

A Support BIFF campaign has gone viral and local industry groups have organized charity events to help the BIFF raise funds to hire an attorney for the lawsuit.

One of the fest’s co-founders and now a co-director, Lee’s term is set to end this year. According to the festival regulations, the festival director’s dismissal or reappointment is a matter for a general assembly.

More Biz

  • Bert Salke and Jennifer Salke

    Feds Looked Into Amazon Studios Chief Jennifer Salke in College Admissions Scandal

    Federal investigators looked into Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke and her husband, Fox 21 Television Studios president Bert Salke, as they conducted a sprawling probe of cheating in elite college admissions, a source close to the case told Variety. It does not appear, however, that prosecutors will charge the Salkes in the case. The Salkes [...]

  • Variety Cord Cutting Placeholder Cable

    Big Blackout Looms as CBS, AT&T Go Down to Wire on Renewal Talks

    A blackout affecting CBS stations in major markets throughout the country looms as CBS and AT&T executives go down to the wire on negotiations for a retransmission consent deal covering 28 O&O stations. The sides have sparred publicly during the past few days as 11 p.m. PT Friday expiration of the previous contract approached. AT&T [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    ICM Responds to WGA Packaging Lawsuit: Claims are 'Baseless' and 'Absurd'

    ICM Partners has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed against four major talent agencies by the Writers Guild of America as part of the larger war between agencies and the guild over packaging fees on TV series and movies. The guild sued ICM, CAA, WME and UTA in California state court in April, [...]

  • New York City NYC Placeholder

    CityFM Podcast Takes a Deep Look at New York’s Music Scene (Listen)

    First among the many projects listed at the beginning of New York Music Month in June was a WNYE radio show and podcast called CityFM that promised to “explore the city’s music culture, emerging artists and trends, and upcoming events told through the lens of what’s happening around the city in Summer 2019.” And while [...]

  • Live Nation Logo. (PRNewsFoto/Live Nation)

    Live Nation Confirms Placing Tickets Directly on Secondary Market at Artists’ Request

    Representatives for Live Nation, the world’s largest live-entertainment company and owner of Ticketmaster, confirmed that it bypassed conventional channels and directly placed thousands of concert tickets on the secondary market upon artists’ request, in an article published in Billboard. In a statement shared with Variety, the company acknowledged that it has facilitated the transfer of [...]

  • Costume designer Michele Clapton

    Costume Designers Fashion a Plan to Fight for Pay Parity in Upcoming Contract Talks

    The Costume Designers Guild Local 892 is gearing up to fight for pay equity in its 2021 contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, establishing a pay-equity committee to raise awareness of the scale disparity between the mostly female CDG membership and the mostly male membership of the Art Directors Guild Local [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content