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Korean Film Council Apology Reveals Devastating Extent of Blacklist Policy

The Korean Film Council (KOFIC) has admitted to being involved in some 56 cases where artists, whose names appeared on a government blacklist, were denied public funding.

The revelation came on Wednesday as the new chairman of KOFIC Oh Seok-geun read out a letter of apology to the film industry. The cases were unearthed by a Ministry of Culture and Sport fact-finding commission.

Both the previous minister of culture and a senior advisor to Korea’s previous president Park Geun-hye have been jailed for assembling the blacklist. The existence of the secret list, which ran to over 10,000 targeted individuals who did not share Park’s politics, was a significant contributor to Park’s impeachment.

Oh detailed how KOFIC had colluded with the government, and revealed for the first time that the policy extended not only to Park’s regime. It also collaborated with the regime of previous president Lee Myung-bak.

“Under the past two governments, KOFIC had been involved in creating the ‘blacklist’ of cultural industry talent and discriminating and excluding them [from support programs],” said Oh. “In 2009, KOFIC unfairly intervened in a number of support programs’ selection processes and employed expedients to select the beneficiaries, following the Blue House (office of the president) guidelines.”

Oh said government authorities issued guidelines to KOFIC in 2009, listing what filmmakers were proscribed from when applying for KOFIC support. KOFIC then reported back the names of disqualified filmmakers and companies, and let the government make final decisions.

The list included individual filmmakers and communities who participated in the mass anti-government protests or were considered “progressive.” Also targeted were films classified as “problematic” by the Blue House because they addressed themes including labor, the Sewol ferry disaster, national security laws, or sexual minorities. It hit companies, festivals and theaters that produced, distributed or screened those films. The screening of documentary “The Truth Shall Not Sink with Sewol,” at the 2015 Busan festival sparked a schism within the industry from which it is only now recovering.

Oh promised further investigation, compensation for victims, and new policies to prevent a recurrence. He also suggested that KOFIC, which is both industry regulator and film financier, may halt investment through its use of the fund of funds top-up mechanism.

“Film financing is now so market-driven now that it may no longer be our role to intervene. Our task force was skeptical whether KOFIC’s investments through the Fund of Funds actually causes trickle down effect for small films,” said Kim Hyun-soo, KOFIC’s director of planning and coordination.

Oh said that he will steer KOFIC to become a pan-Asian film industry-support organization; seek to make Korea the hub of the Asian film industry; and set up a production guarantee fund to revitalize mid to low budget Korean film productions.

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