Jun 2016 VOL.62


  • CHO Young-kag, Lord of Korean Independent Cinema
  • by SONG Soon-jin / 12.04.2013
  • “OK it’s tough, but so what? This is my job!”
    Photo ⓒCine21 
    There is more than one way to describe CHO Young-kag. He is an independent film planner and producer, and also the director of the Seoul Independent Film Festival celebrating its 39th anniversary this year. With the festival's opening night planned for November 28th, CHO was not only extremely busy promoting the festival to the press and public, but also because of the recently released YEON Sang-ho’s animation The Fake, which he produced.
    On the 20th, Cho showed up to the KOFIC offices for his interview with a shy smile. He already had a packed morning with two interviews in a row. He had carefully scheduled his day around a film's press-premiere as many high profile actors and actresses were attending. I felt I could see a glimpse of the bleak reality of independent cinema today, always losing to stars and capital. However, despite my somewhat depressing interview questions, he never lost his sense of humor. ‘OK it’s tough, but so what? This is my job. This is what I have been doing, and this is what I will keep doing.”  His positive spirit reminded me of the motto of this year’s Seoul Independent Film Festival: ”Why Not?”

    - It is the kind of event that needs the biggest push from the press but gets the least coverage.

    It is either because they think they know it all, or, they think it is not worth knowing at all. I guess it is pretty much the same with what the general audience thinks of independent cinema, too. It reminds me of my 20s, when I would just walk in a press building and plead to the reporters to spare me ten minutes and listen to me. Of course they refused, and I would wander downtown alone, feeling stupid and helpless. (laughs) That is why I have recently launched a free magazine this year. It is called NOW, and is published by the Seoul Independent Film Festival, and around 2000 copies are distributed. The press people crave them, and they now call me instead of me calling them, to ask for copies of the magazine, because they are free. (laughs)

    - It is well known that independent cinema is having a hard time. And there hasn’t been a big hit recently in independent cinema, unlike in the past. 

    I am almost tired and ashamed to keep saying that we’re having a hard time. In any case, we have received aid from the government for the last 15 years and helpful policies have been implemented. Similar to how the end of screen quota didn't mean the end of Korean cinema, just because independent cinema is having a hard time, it doesn’t mean the end of it. The power and hope for independent cinema have been increasing, with the historical hit Old Partner in 2009, followed by Breathless (2008), Daytime Drinking (2008), Bleak Night (2010), and also with this year’s The Fake, INGtoogi: The Battle of Surpluses and Nora Noh. However, it is getting even harder for independent films to find an audience. One of the reasons for that is that in the past only outstanding works were released but these days as many as thirty films are released a year.

    - You produced YEON Sang-ho’s The Fake. It is your second work with him after The King of Pigs (2011).

    I first read the scenario of The King of Pigs in 2006 and became its producer in 2009 with KT&G Sangsang Madang’s investment, on their suggestion. I didn’t do much more than fitting things within the budget. The film was exclusively made by YEON. In The Fake, even the investment was secured through YEON. I guess my role was to share the stress. We were like conversation partners talking about things towards the completion of the film. Plus, I did voice casting and scheduling for recording. That was about it.
    - With The King of Pigs, Korean independent cinema has now grown to cover full length animations also.

    In terms of animation, I am just an ordinary viewer. I have only seen ten or so animations from Disney, Pixar, Japan and Europe. I had this question in mind, though. Why isn’t there an independent animated feature? So I pushed animators to make a full-length film, and to go and demand for policies and programs. I guess YEON has marked a good turning point. Now we are witnessing full length independent animations one after another, like Padak and Green Days (2011). Now the issue is how to create a sustainable system. When this issue is solved, we will be able to pick up new directors and produce them by ourselves as well.

    - How do you handle being a film producer and a festival director at the same time? How do they affect each other?

    They are in conflict with each other. (laughs) When I should concentrate on the festival I have to spend time on producing, and when I should be producing a film, I have to go and select movies for the festival. I feel sorry for both. However, on the bright side, as a producer you can better advise your director because you have seen many films, and when you are running a festival, because you have experience as a producer, you have a relevant and respectful attitude for the films and directors.

    - The Seoul Independent Film Festival will be celebrating its 40th anniversary next year. It’s a pretty long history.

    It began as the Korean Youth Film Festival in 1975, and it has been 15 years since it turned into the Seoul Independent Film Festival. Now it has become a pattern of sorts for a good independent film to screen in Busan or Jeonju International Film Festivals and then at the Seoul Independent Film Festival before being released. Looking towards the 40th anniversary, I have a couple of issues to resolve. One is whether to make it bigger by making a new competition section like an Asian International Competition section. However, for the time being, we don’t have enough resources to invite films from abroad. Furthermore, if you get support from the government or enterprises to build the festival, the festival’s independence and identity may be compromised. Then it won’t be independent anymore. Instead, you should be focusing on how to raise wages for the staff. The other issue is whether we should find a new director for the festival. I have been the director for the past 12 years. I guess it might be time for someone else to run it with a new vision.
    Photo ⓒCine21 

    By SONG Soon-jin
  • Comment