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COVID-19 deals blow to S. Korea's indie, arthouse film scene

Movies 11:40 January 26, 2021

SEOUL, Jan. 26 (Yonhap) -- As the protracted novel coronavirus pandemic has affected every cultural sector in South Korea, the independent and arthouse film circle is on the verge of losing ground amid closures of festivals and corporate restructuring.

Organizers of the Mise-en-scene Short Film Festival (MSFF) announced that it will no longer hold the annual festival starting this year, saying that it is the time to seek ways to navigate the fast-changing media industry.

The 19th edition of MSFF was held online in June last year.

This image provided by the web site of the Mise-en-scene Short Film Festival shows the poster of its 19th edition last year. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

"We will terminate the form of a film festival at a time when the MSFF marks the 20th anniversary this year," the MSFF said in a posting released on Jan. 13. "In the midst of the yearlong COVID-19 pandemic and an upheaval in the media and theater environment, we need to take time to think about roles of short films and film festivals."

Starting in 2002, the MSFF has been acclaimed as a cradle of creative filmmakers in South Korea, with director Na Hong-jin of "The Wailing" (2016) awarded the top prize in 2005 before advancing to the mainstream.

The Seoul Independent Documentary Film Festival decided to temporarily halt the annual event and closed its secretariat.

The event's organizers said that they need to obtain new dynamics that help them go through the fast-changing industry landscape accelerated by the virus pandemic.

This image provided by the website of the Seoul Independent Documentary Film Festival shows the poster of its 2020 edition. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

At the same time, companies have been cutting budgets for supporting non-commercial art films.

CJ CGV, the country's largest multiplex chain operator, carried out large-scale reorganization last year and downsized CGV Arthouse, a specialty division for screenings and distribution of indie and arthouse films, such as Lee Chang-dong's award-winning mystery "Burning" (2018).

KT&G, South Korea's dominant tobacco company, has also suspended its philanthropic KT&G Sangsang Madang project for months. It has financed a number of indie films and fostered up-and-coming film directors since mid-2000.

The South Korean film industry was hit hard by the pandemic, with the number of moviegoers plunging 73.7 percent to 59.5 million in 2020 from 226.7 million the previous year.

Total revenues reached 510 billion won (US$462.9 million) last year, down 73 percent on-year from 1.9 trillion won.

In this file photo taken on Dec. 25, 2020, a Seoul theater is relatively empty. (Yonhap)


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