Filmmaker-turned bureaucrat Oh Seok-geun was drafted as chairman of the Korean Film Council in January, in what was very much a peace-making role. Now, Oh is extending his goodwill mission onto a wider pan-Asian stage.
Oh is an idealist, a reformer who is prepared to lead from the front and also a pragmatist.
With Korea’s former culture minister and previous president Park Geun-hye both jailed for collusion to damage the film industry — they operated a blacklist of talent and filmmakers — Oh’s first official appearance in his new role was to apologize KOFIC’s previous actions.
“I’m making changes [to KOFIC]. We have sued some KOFIC staff that had collaborated with the previous government in blacklisting artists, and made some changes in the personnel as well so that the same kind of collaboration does not happen again,” Oh told Variety earlier this year. “We have also set up a special committee to further investigate the blacklist case.”
At the same time, Oh is also an ambitious reformer with an agenda that places Korea, and his old stomping ground of Busan, at the heart of Asian cinema. Oh is the driving force behind an initiative to establish an Asian Film Center, which was launched in Busan this week.
“As the first step, the idea is that KOFIC brings them to Busan and provides the platform to get together, form the Asian Film Center, and then turn it into an international organization that has legal force,” said Oh.
Oh dreams of a U.N.- or ASEAN-style ambassadorial organization. But diplomatic issues are ever-present.
“China is showing enormous interest in the idea of setting up an Asian Film Center. But they are being very persistent in insisting that the head office should be in China, and that the chairman should be Chinese. Of course the center won’t be whole without China, but if they stick to that stance, I would rather go without China,” said Oh.