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Ko - production in Busan
  • by KIM Su-bin /  Jul 17, 2018
  • “I’m taking a pioneering stance”

    Korea’s first independent film production and distribution company, INDIESTORY Inc. has reached its 20th anniversary. INDIESTORY Inc. has been working on shorts movies as well as long features and made the move from theatrical distribution to digital platforms in order to revitalize the Korean film industry with entertaining yet meaningful films. Films like Old Partner (2009), A Midsummer’s Fantasia (2015) (distribution), Worst Woman (2016), and Queen of Walking (2016) (production, distribution) constitute the bulk of their filmography and earned them the love of many fans. Having stepped into the film industry in the early 1990s with his work at the Cultural School Seoul, CEO Stanley KWAK is not only the pillar of INDIESTORY Inc. but also the Korean indie film industry as a whole.

    -INDIESTORY Inc. is already 20 years old. Does it feel that long to you?
    I definitely feel older. The Association of Korean Independent Film & Video and the Jeongdongjin Independent Film Festival too are 20 years old. We all started at around the same time as we were concerned about film distribution. It’s still tough to run the company, but now I feel like I have a new sense of responsibility. I guess I have mixed feelings. We’re holding special screenings at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN) and the Asiana International Short Film Festival (AISFF) this year. I’m thankful that people are interested in INDIESTORY Inc. and have suggested this kind of programming. We plan on introducing diverse films that fit the identity of each festival. And after that, we’ll hold a 20th-anniversary event dedicated to indie films in collaboration with The Association of Korean Independent Film & Video and the Jeongdongjin Independent Film Festival at INDIESPACE.

    -Which film would you say marked a turning point for INDIESTORY Inc.?
    I mentioned Repatriation when we were celebrating our the 10th anniversary, and I want to mention it again. It’s a documentary with an identity suitable for an independent film distribution. And it allowed us to pull in strong numbers at the box office too. On top of that, this film inspired me to the idea of community screenings. In terms of development, Old Partner comes to mind. Its success helped our company be financially comfortable while introducing the meaning of “indie films” to ordinary audiences. Penny Pinchers (2011) and Queen of Walking were our two attempts at commercial films, while Strangers on the Field (2015) was a project that took us much more time than expected to complete; the protagonist was changed midway through shooting, and there was a big accident in Japan that delayed the production for 7 years.

    -How would you evaluate your own experience these last 20 years?
    I had my share of doubts when I started this business, wondering if I could make a living by distributing indie and short films only. Anyway, I took a pioneering stance. There were many difficulties along the way, but more than resolving them internally by ourselves, what we needed was the support of policies. As cultural policies were unstable and unreliable due to switching political powers, it made it harder for our business to be stable. The film market itself changed as well. We have transitioned from film to digital, and streaming services have emerged and taken over the broadcasting market. It wasn’t easy for us.

    -When you founded the company, your immediate worry must have been making a profit.
    Indieforum was meant to be a celebration, instead of a film festival where people would compete for the prize money. Since Cultural School Seoul joined us in organizing Indieforum, I naturally heard a lot from directors who submitted their films. Everyone agreed that there was a need for support in distribution, but we all thought that it would be too difficult. At first, we decided to have a distribution department within the Cultural School Seoul. In 2000, I thought that making it a private company would make it easier for us to secure initial funding, and it would work better than an independent hole in the wall, so I got the company registered. In the beginning, we had a market for it and the supporting policies seemed favorable, so things weren’t looking too bad. Public broadcast KBS had its long-running “Independent Cinema” channel, so I would say things were better off then. Sometimes people ask me how I was able to make it through these 20 years. Whenever things got tough, one of our projects would suddenly prove a success. It must be the same for commercial films, but in a way, it’s all thanks to these big breaks. Compared to back then, it has become tougher now when we don’t have these breaks. It’s like a homework that is never really done, our internal problems have just accumulated. Despite all that, all these new films and filmmakers gave me energy, and that’s how I was able to make it to the 20th year.
    -What’s impressive is that, even after the commercial success of Old Partner, you kept releasing a large variety of films.
    I never had the chance to have commercial success go to my head. What I remember from the time of Old Partner is that thanks to this film, indie films now have two kinds of platforms. One of them is Indieplug. We thought about doing online releases, promotion, and digital distribution in order to create this platform. The other one is Indiefilm, but this platform is no longer what it used to be. There was a shift in the government during the creation of this platform, and those who were running it eventually didn’t receive the help they needed to continue their project.

    -You have been covering such a wide array of genres and styles. Is there a common characteristic or a standard when choosing which films to distribute?
    I don’t think we have a particular standard. We just discuss it internally. When we have conflicting opinions, we think about what kind of meaning the film has. If we’re able to give it meaning, then we distribute or produce the film. Filmmakers don’t have to wait years in order to make their directorial debut, contrary to the case of commercial films. If there is a bright director, then we try to suit their qualities as a producer. We will follow their style and support it. Sometimes we produce or distribute it this way. Making a polished work is important too, but we’re also concerned about whether we’re doing something meaningful for the indie film industry. 

    -What kind of projects are you working on now?
    We’re producing a film that has received the support from the Korea Creative Content Agency. We have to start shooting very soon. Also, funding hasn’t been finalized yet, but there’s a horror film called Lingering. We’re hoping to start shooting in August or September. As for the titles we’re distributing, there’s Land of Happiness which will premiere at BIFAN, and a documentary called Counters which is scheduled to hit theaters in August. In September, we will have a documentary about grandpas and grandmas called Nabuya, Nabuya.

    -What would be your wish for the next 20 years?
    I’m not sure about the next 20 years. For the next 5 years, I think I should reorganize the internal system and make adjustments with the management. We also need to overcome our financial problems. If we’re able to make it through the next 10 years, I would be very proud of us. It’s hard to imagine now what the next 20 years will be like. I just hope that the company will have a stable structure that will allow employees to enjoy working there. That means that I must make it profitable, and I hope that said profit will be supported by something meaningful.
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