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Ko - production in Busan
  • Darcy Paquet on the Challenges and Potential of the Wildflower Awards
  • by Pierce Conran /  Apr 11, 2016
  • Marketing, Genre and Commercial Talent in the Low-Budget Realm

    Wildflowers Film Awards Korea organizer and local film critic Darcy Paquet sat down with KoBiz on the eve of the 3rd edition of the event to discuss the current state of the Korean independent film scene. Wildflowers Film Awards Korea recognize achievements in independent Korean cinema and consider all films made on a budget below KRW 1 billion (USD 860,000) that were released theatrically during the previous calendar year. This year, the awards took place on April 7th at the Seoul Literature House on the slopes of Namsan Mountain in Central Seoul.

    Here we are about 24hrs before this year's Wildflowers ceremony. Is everything ready to go or are there any last minute issues to deal with?


    I think everything is ready to go, as long as there are no last minute surprises. One of the big challenges for us is trying to get everyone to come. It’s important for us to have the winners there to receive the trophies in person, but we don’t want to tell them in advance. Some people get busy and their plans change at the last minute so we’re constantly checking to make sure that everyone’s going to come.


    We're here in Seoul Cinema, where you're running the last round of nominees’ screenings for the Wildflowers. First of all, how exactly do you choose the films that screen?


    It’s really difficult to choose the films. Ideally, I’d like to screen all the 22 nominated films but this wasn’t possible this year as we only had a limited amount of time in the theater. Actually, one of our considerations is running time as we want people to be able to come after work and watch two films. Alive, for example, is a great film but too long. We also tried to focus on films that received a lot of nominations. Hopefully next year we can secure a bigger swath of time.


    And how have the showings been? Are they well attended and do the filmmakers take part?


    First we had director LEE Kwang-kuk and actor KIM Kang-hyun of A Matter of Interpretation. The crowd was really interested in the film which in some ways is difficult to understand because it features dreams within dreams. But listening to LEE talk about it helped to understand his perspective. Then we had JANG Kun-jae, who directed A Midsummer’s Fantasia, a film that received a lot of strong word of mouth when it came out. Some of the audience members had been meaning to see it but missed it and others had already seen it multiple times. We had quite a range of different questions about how it was made and whether he had considered shooting a sequel. Tonight we have In Her Place director Albert SHIN, who flew in from Toronto, as well as all three actresses in the film.


    As a foreigner running an event that exclusively encompasses Korean culture here in Korea, have you ever experienced any trouble?


    I wouldn’t say it has created problems but there are both advantages and disadvantages to me being a foreigner. The disadvantages are mostly practical. For examples, if I were to visit a company by myself to try and get sponsorship, they might think it kind of strange. Of course I have people helping me so it’s not a huge issue. For me personally, after doing everything in Korean for a few months, my head starts to hurt. But I suppose it’s good for my language skills! The one advantage is that when you have an awards ceremony like this, the person running it puts a certain perspective or stamp on the event. There are different groups in the industry and if you’re seen as someone who is close to any of these groups, you can be viewed as less impartial. I’m very involved with the industry but I’m also slightly removed from it, so I think people are comfortable with my running it.

    You sometimes see an indie director reaching a certain status and then jumping into the commercial arena, but by and large, directors tend to stick to one field or the other. This year, we saw blockbuster filmmaker LEE Joon-ik make DONGJU; The Portrait of A Poet, his first low-budget film. Do you think we might see more moving around by big names in future?

    I expect there will be more jumping around in the future. Five or ten years ago, I remember hearing young directors debating whether they should begin their career with an independent film or try to get attached to a commercial project. They were concerned that if they began with a small film, they would get branded as an indie director, and with a commercial film, they might not be able to make it the way they want. Now there’s less of a sense that directors are branded a certain way. There are some examples of other directors who have begun in the commercial and make small films later. LEE Joon-ik is the most famous but there are others who have tried both and they don’t seem to ruling out either in the future. These include E J-yong, who has been successful in both. Sometimes when I talk to young directors, that seems to be what they would most like to do. They understand that there are advantages to shooting with a low budget and having more creative freedom but they also have certain stories which they want to tell that they would like to see reach a wider audience.


    Unlike the States and Europe, where low-budget filmmaking includes a lot of small genres films, we see comparatively few of these in Korea. Given how well known the industry is for genre titles, do you find this surprising?


    I think it’s a missed opportunity. There were times when the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival seemed like it would become a hub for this kind of filmmaking. But it’s proved to be really difficult, especially when it comes to commercial releases. It might be a marketing problem. Whereas independent films can have an artsy style, and therefore seem different from commercial films, small genre films are in some ways competing more directly. I hope this is something that the industry can confront more directly in the future. Star power might be one way to do that. You would think that film companies would see the benefit of shooting on a low budget yet making a film that could appeal to a wide audience but it hasn’t worked yet.


    Are you already thinking ahead to next year's edition and how you might change or expand?


    When we’re in the month leading up the awards, we start to think “Oh, I think I could have done that a little better.” My goal isn’t for us to get much bigger but rather expand out activities. Partly to become more of a presence throughout the year. We’ve also talked about expanding our site to include more reviews and information about what’s being released. This isn’t fixed yet but it is the long-term goal. I hope that we don’t burn hot for a month and then disappear for the next 11 months. We’ve also thought about special screenings that could include past award winners. If we had the opportunity, I would also love to be able to organize screenings abroad or in other parts of the country.


    It might be a little early, but at this point in 2016 do you think some likely contenders for the 4th Wildflowers have already emerged?


    I’ve gotten to the point where I’m always keeping my eye out for what’s coming out and thinking about the future. This year we’ve already seen DONGJU; The Portrait of A Poet, which qualifies with its low-budget. Then again, I imagine it will do well at the mainstream awards, so it may not need our help! There are a number of other films that I’m personally a big fan of which I expect will have a strong chance next year. Some examples are Snow Paths, End of Winter and The World of Us, which I expect will be screened before the end of the year and should win quite a few fans. I’m expecting healthy competition for next year.

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