(Yonhap Feature) Only second time around, but Korean cinema is definitely down under
By Robert McGovern
SEOUL, Nov. 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and Australia are celebrating the last stretch of their Year of Friendship, with this year marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, bringing more attention to the second annual Korean Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA).
Organized by the Korean Cultural Office in Sydney, KOFFIA is a fledgling film festival that showcased 13 feature films and seven shorts this year. It hoped to show the diversity of Korean cinema today, as well as provide a true Korean cultural experience with industry forums, cultural performances, food tastings and more.
In the 12 months since its inception, attendance figures tripled to almost 4,000, and the festival has expanded beyond Sydney to Melbourne, marking a huge success.
"I went to the first Korean film festival with my sister and we really enjoyed it and felt so proud," Jung Eun-hee said, adding she is just glad that there are "more chances to show Korea to people in Australia."
After a frantic three weeks of the festival through August to September, Kieran Tully, the KOFFIA marketing manager, was already busy planning for 2012, a year in which he and his staff hope to see the attendance reach the 5,000 mark.
Tully is the marketing and festivals manager at the Korean Cultural Office Australia. A Sydney native, he has lived in Australia all his life. Having worked on about 15 different film festivals around Sydney, learning the trade, he started planning his own Korean film festival in 2009 before getting involved with the Korean Cultural Office.
With an interesting background in mathematics and film, Tully seemed destined to be involved with the film industry in one way or another. "While I completed a three year advanced mathematics degree from the University of Sydney, I ran a DVD store online that imported rare DVDs from Asia and the world to Australia, so the passion and interest (in cinema) was always there. I decided to change my direction in life and followed my passion for cinema, and have enjoyed sharing it ever since for everyone that comes to our festivals or film nights," he said in an e-mail interview.
He first discovered Korean cinema, however, by making his way around other Asian countries. "I am a big fan (of Korean cinema) and have seen around 200-300 Korean films," he said. "I guess I discovered Korean cinema through being a fan of martial arts films and eventually worked my way through Hong Kong crime, Japanese animation and ended up checking out Korean films. The first film I remember seeing was 'Volcano High' (2001) probably around 2005, so I have been following this passion for six years."
Tully was planning to start his own Korean film festival but was about to give up when he heard that one was already in the making. "I had been researching and planning to set up a Korean film festival for about six months and was using the project as part of my screen culture course at AFTRS, the Australian Film Television and Radio School. I eventually found out that the Consulate General of South Korea in Sydney was planning to launch a festival," he said.
Fortunately, that wasn't the end of his dream. Eventually, he and the South Korean consulate general merged projects and what resulted was the first KOFFIA in October 2010.
Like most fans of Korean cinema around the world, he only has a somewhat connection to Korea. "I didn't have any Korean friends or much knowledge of the country. I am a football fan so naturally I was interested when the World Cup was there but really my only connection would be that I am a massive Manchester United fan and obviously Park Ji-sung would often be interviewed about Korea and his career," he said. "My entry into Korean culture was directly through film."
He was featured recently in TV Korea in Australia in a documentary titled "An Aussie bloke falls in Love with Korean Film."
The first festival was a success but wasn't without teething problems.
"It was really a first-time experiment. While overall it was very successful, some areas we got things right and some areas we got things wrong," Tully said.
This year was more professional, including first-ever media launches and press conferences.
"We have also expanded to two cities, now taking place in both Sydney and Melbourne, both of which we run from our Sydney office so it's definitely a more widespread event. We have tripled our screenings, so KOFFIA 2011 was both bigger and better compared to our first outing," he said.
For Tully, part of the success has been in the diversity of the audience. Australians were the target market for last year's festival and that was achieved, with only about 30-50 percent of the audience being Korean.
"This year, we expanded that target to include the many Asian nationalities that are obsessed with Korean dramas and pop, and in fact we even produced our press release in six languages -- English, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Malaysian -- and again we succeeded in this approach," he said.
"Based on the audience award that attendees filled in, 11 of the 13 films received four or four-and-a-half stars out of five from the audience, which shows that people were thoroughly entertained."
The highest rated film in Sydney was Park Chan-wook's classic "JSA: Joint Security Area" while "A Barefoot Dream" proved most popular in Melbourne. "We also managed to sell out a number of sessions, with the draw power of Won Bin seen in both states with 'The Man From Nowhere' bringing in great numbers," said Tully.
For Luke Martinelli, one of the festival participants, once was not enough. "Came and saw JSA yesterday. Fourth time I've seen it, and fourth time I've loved it," he said.
Attendance figures at the festival speak for themselves and make encouraging reading for 2012. "In 2010, we attracted 1,250 people, and in 2011, we managed to triple that to have 3,700 people attend between Sydney and Melbourne. Great figures for a second year event, and we hope to hit the 5,000 mark in 2012," Tully said.
"We have some exciting plans for the future, including expanding to further states around Australia," he added. "So we definitely are aiming high for KOFFIA to become one of the must visit film festivals on the circuit in Australia."