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Film festivals oppose budget cut, raise concerns over inclusiveness

Sept. 14, 2023 - 16:11 By Park Ga-young
The 26th Busan International Film Festival in 2021 (BIFF)

Fifty local film festivals, including the big three of the Busan International Film Festival, Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival and Jeonju International Film Festival, have joined forces to protest a cut in the budget for programs that support the local film industry.

In a statement Wednesday, a group tentatively called the Film Festival Network strongly criticized the government's decision to remove funding earmarked for local film production and distribution, along with a significant 50 percent reduction in the budget allocated for film festivals by combining and reducing 40 different film festivals to just 20.

The budget for supporting the production and distribution of local films, which has been in place since 2018, is 1.2 billion won ($906,000) for 2024. The support for film festivals was more than halved from 56 billion won to 28 billion won and the reduced budget could take a big toll on film festivals.

“The movie industry is shocked and in despair following the announcement of the government budget,” the association said. “Film festivals serve as a platform that inspires and drives the motivation and objectives of film creation. ... Budget cuts for film festivals will undoubtedly diminish the driving force behind film creation,” it noted, adding that it would have a long term negative impact on the country’s film industry.

Various film festivals that emerged in South Korea during the 1990s embrace new works, including short films and experimental cinema not covered by the mainstream film industry. Since the 2000s, these festivals have played a pivotal role in the discovery of numerous filmmakers who have gone on to become key figures in the Korean film industry, according to the statement.

On Sept. 5, the Korean Film Council announced a budget proposal of 73.4 billion won for 2024. Newly introduced budget items include 4.6 billion won for improvement of accessibility for people with disabilities and 900 million won for cultivating the next generation of future audiences. It also increased the budget earmarked for supporting locations where films and videos are created by 700 million won to 1 billion won.

Announcing its budget plan for the next year, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism explained on Aug. 29 that it had examined excessive subsidies, wasteful elements and cartel-like interests. It then canceled or reduced funding for projects over which there were questions about expertise or fairness during the selection process for financial support, or where there were significant inefficiencies in execution, the ministry said.

The latest move and the nomination of a new culture minister have raised alarm over the government’s position on filmmakers, which could potentially undermine diversity and inclusiveness.

Yu In-chon, who was announced as the nominee to head the Culture Ministry on Wednesday, said in an interview with a local newspaper in late August, "Why should the government provide funding even to films that aim to break away from capital and power? We need to create a narrow gateway and rigorously select who receives support."

"The Domestic Film Festival Network has urged the withdrawal of the budget cut while demanding the establishment of a discussion platform for the advancement of film festivals and film culture. While these demands are initial actions, the network will mull the next step if their demands are not met," an official of the BIFF told The Korea Herald on Thursday.

"Considering the insufficient funding for the Film Development Fund, which is the source of the council's budget, and the government's budgetary tightening, it was inevitable to make adjustments to some projects," an official at the Korean Film Council told The Korea Herald.

"Despite the challenging situation faced by the Korean film industry as a whole, the council will do its best to ensure that the overall level of support for Korean films next year is not reduced," he added.