×

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

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • Colin Kaepernick Kneel

    Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid Reach Settlement With NFL

    Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, two football players who alleged the National Football League colluded to oust them from the game after they started kneeling in protest of racial inequality during the playing of the national anthem, have reached a settlement in the matter, according to a statement from the sports organization and lawyers representing [...]

  • R. Kelly

    R. Kelly Could Be in ‘Big Trouble’ Over Alleged New Sex Tape, Attorney Says

    Strong allegations of sexual misconduct have followed R. Kelly for 25 years, but the singer has always managed to slip free. Yet reports that a videotape of him sexually assaulting an underage girl, combined with the outcry surrounding the Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” means that public sentiment, at the very least, is definitely not [...]

  • Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in

    New Media Residuals and Feature Films Contribute to Spike in Writers' Pay

    The outlook for members of the Writers Guild of America has brightened — even amid pervasive uncertainty in the entertainment industry. According to the most recent report to WGA West members, earnings surged 2.8% to $1.41 billion in 2017, thanks mostly to gains in feature films and new-media residuals. Total covered earnings for WGA West [...]

  • Joe Dante Gremlins

    Hollywood Execs Seek Licensing Deals at the New York Toy Fair

    On Feb. 16 more than 30,000 studio executives, buyers and toy company reps will gather in Manhattan for the annual Toy Fair New York, all vying for market share and trying to snag the latest hot trend in a fast-changing industry. Those working the film side of the business will focus much of their attention [...]

  • Lady Gaga Bradley Cooper A Star

    Universal Music Group Fuels 11.3% Rise in Vivendi's 2018 Revenues

    Vivendi’s revenues were up 11.3% to €13.93 billion ($15.7 billion) in 2018, powered by Universal Music Group, which delivered such hits as the “A Star Is Born” soundtrack and Drake’s new album. UMG’s revenues climbed by 10% to €6 billion ($6.8 billion) compared to 2017. On top of the “A Star Is Born” soundtrack, the [...]

  • The Blacklist 100th Episode

    'The Blacklist' EP Sues for Wrongful Termination

    A former executive producer of the NBC show “The Blacklist” has filed suit against Sony, alleging he was fired after being wrongfully blamed for a workplace scuffle. Michael Watkins is a veteran TV director and cinematographer. He was an executive producer for several seasons of “The Blacklist,” the NBC crime show starring James Spader. According [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content