“The Righteous Revenge (Uirijeok Gutu), a rebellion film about Japanese colonialism at the time,” KOFFIA director David Park tells us about the 1919 film that is regarded as Korea’s first feature.
Park has been with the festival since its second incarnation in 2011, and is delighted that the opening night film, Resistance, “… rides off that March 1st Movement, which this opening film touches on. It’s really significant that we actually have the director and the two actors from the film joining us this year for the opening.”
“The film festival is run to encourage cultural understanding between Australia and Korea. In the 10 years of it being here, we are seeing a growing amount of support and demand for Korean film and of Korean culture in general, which I think is phenomenal.”
It certainly helps that some of the most exciting cinema from around the world is being produced in South Korea, including the current Palme d’Or and Sydney Film Festival Prize winner and favourite for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite.
Unlike Australia, which fails to introduce restrictions and screen quotas on local cinemas in order to make our filmmaking thrive, Korea has had them in place since 1967. The result is that Korea is one of the few countries in the world where local content is watched more than imported content, with the current cinema quota at 73 days per calendar year for local films. Moreover, it has resulted in some of the most exciting filmmaking talent in world cinema, and films of high sophistication that can travel.
“The industry has definitely flourished into a voice of its own and it is a very thriving industry,” confirms Park. “The government really values the fact that films are one of the greatest embodiments of culture. It definitely tells people what we laugh at, what we cry at, what we get angry at, what we cheer for, and it embodies the ideology of a particular set of people.”
And this love of film culture extends to the cinemas themselves. “The facilities are just state of the art,” says Park. “I’ve been to a thousand seat cinema just casually in a shopping mall, and it’s an industry that’s harnessed by the people. Culturally, Koreans are a lot more susceptive to indoor activities. We don’t have the natural beauty and the conditions for outdoor activities, which is why we tend to go in a lot more. And I guess that’s one of the reasons why the cinema industry along with a lot of the other room culture, karaokes and things like that, are thriving a lot more in Korea. Whereas Australia, we’ve got beautiful nature, we’ve got the sun and it makes a little less sense to give that up and be in a dark space.”
Appropriately enough, KOFFIA is on during the Australian winter, and this year showcases both upcoming and recent Korean cinema.
“Every year we try and program a diverse range of genres. We like to have at least one romantic comedy, an action flick, a drama. This year, we wanted to place a bit of focus on a bit patriotic programming, which can be reflected in 3 of our films. Mal-Mo-E (The Secret Mission) and Granny Poetry Club and our opening film A Resistance. They definitely thrive off that mentality for this year.”
“We like to program a lot of the iconic films that have made a lot of noise through the past year. In a sense, it’s a retrospective of the general flow and the general heavy-hitting films that have been the big issues and topics for the past year.
“It doesn’t really take away from their performance at our festival,” claims Park. “There are still a lot of people who actually miss out when they’re in general release, and they always ask every year, why aren’t we bringing this film back. Those sessions actually turn out to be our most well attended sessions.”
Finally, and most appropriately due to its title and subject matter, David Park wants to spotlight one film that he is proud to showcase this year, Birthday. “It will have a really big sentiment because of its personal nature. It’s about the Sewol Ferry incident in 2014 which sank off the coast of Korea with 300 high school students. It was a very, very, very, very big issue. This film looks at the families that were affected by this incident.”