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(Yonhap Feature) Annyeong Mate! Sydney says hello, again, to Cinema on the Park
By Rob McGovern
Contributing writer
SEOUL, Feb. 17 (Yonhap) -- Every Thursday evening between April and December last year, people lined up on Elizabeth Street in Sydney to see what has been one of the steady driving forces behind the popularity of Korean culture -- movies.

   When the Korean Cultural Office launched the inaugural "Cinema on the Park" program last year, organizers just wanted to give the locals a taste of Korea. After drawing more than 1,000 attendees, the event is back this year, kicking off a season that will last until the end of June.

   The "Cinema..." event is held in addition to the more formal Korean Film Festival in Australia, often featuring films that do not make it to the festival but still merit a public showing.

   Screenings have been announced for the first half of 2012, from Feb. 9 to the end of June, with special screenings on March 29 and May 31. To keep audiences engaged, every screening contains both a fun short film and a quality feature film, presented in themes that try to reflect what is currently being produced by Korean directors as well as attempting to reflect trends in the industry.

Brochures for the Cinema on the Park (Courtesy of the Korean Cultural Office in Sydney)

The themes and principal films for each category for 2012 are "Literature in Film" with Lee Chang-dong's "Poetry," awarded Best Screenplay at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival; "X-treme Korea" with "The Man From Nowhere," "I Saw the Devil," "The Chaser" and the must watch "The Yellow Sea" by Na Hong-jin. On March 29, there will be a special screening of "Moving," Park Ki-yong's documentary response to the Christchurch earthquakes and also marking the "New Zealand Korea Year of Friendship 2012." It will be followed by a Q&A with producer Michael Stephens. April will see the works of arthouse directors Park Chan-ok, Im Sang-soo, Hong Sang-soo and Kim Ki-duk.

   May's theme is "Birth of the Blockbuster" and looks at the developments the Korean industry has made in recent years, with an analysis on the phenomenon that is the Korean Wave. "Sporting Triumphs" in June leads up to the London Olympics.

   The "Cinema..." screenings also include guest presenters who will hold forums on Korean cinema. So far, Russell Edwards (Variety), Richard Gray (The Reel Bits), Deborah Szapiro (Sydney International Animation Festival), and singer Emma Franz have participated. Russell Edwards will return this year and will be joined by Matt Ravier, Sydney's Canadian Film Festival artistic director, Julie Rigg of ABC National Radio's Movie Time, Fantastic Asia Film Festival Director Neil Foley, and Australian artist Yvonne Boag.

   There are also hopes for a film club to come out of these screenings.

   "A Korean film club was established in London when the London Korean Cultural Center started screenings three years ago, and we hope to develop something similar in Sydney for avid film buffs," said Kieran Tulley, the festivals manager of the Korean Cultural Office in Sydney.

Matt Ravier, artistic director of Sydney's Canadian Film Festival, speaks at a forum on Korean cinema.

There is also loyalty card program that offers prizes ranging from free Korean film festival tickets and film prize packs to Korean Cultural Office annual memberships as well as giving attendees the chance to actively participate in the programming process.

   Amandeep Kundra turned up at many screenings last year, and because he rated each film he saw, he got the chance to select a film in this year's program through a drawing. He chose "Hello Schoolgirl," which will screen on May 31.

   "It was actually a big decision to go through as there is such a big collection of movies that I have seen and fallen in love with. I decided to choose 'Hello Schoolgirl' because I love the hidden meaning of love, which confirms the great saying 'love is blind' and has no value of age, nationality, habits, etc. So it's a great piece of entertainment and very meaningful to watch," he said.

   Suliana Manuofetoa said her primary reason for attending was "because I love Korea and want to learn more about Korean culture." Sumanto Gunawan, another avid fan, said he attends "to enjoy Korean cinema, and the non-mainstream films that screen at Cinema on the Park."

   The event is not meant to just show crowd pleasing movies. "Controversial Classics" was the final theme last year and featured the daring, sexual melodrama "Madame Freedom" and "The Aimless Bullet," a 1960 film that realistically portrays life in post-Korean War Korea. So realistic was the film that it was initially banned by the government at the time.
Organizers say visitors often comment on the cultural diversity the screenings offer as well as making people aware of issues that may be specific or unique to Korea.

   Films screen every Thursday night from 6:30 p.m. Entry is free but booking is required, which can be done online, over the phone or in person. More details can be found at or by contacting