I was first exposed to Korea’s love for short films at the 12th Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF) and, despite some of the exquisite feature films I managed to catch that year, it was the shorts that ended up being most memorable. In many of the film festivals held annually in Korea, there are an array of short film competitions and sections where young (as well more established filmmakers) can showcase their cinematic prowess in the shorter format of filmic art.
I sat down recently to watch one young filmmaker’s debut film Mackerel. Its director, Lee Seol-hee, is a young film student at Korean Art Conservatory and her film made its debut at last year’s Busan International Film Festival under the ‘Wide angle-Korean Short Film’ competition. This touching family drama centers on the troubled relationship between young schoolgirl (Hyo-ju) and her father. With no mother in sight, their relationship is hampered by miscommunication and a cold void that exists between the two. Food, specifically that of one baked mackerel, is used to symbolise this abyss that separates them as the nourishing supplement that hovers between them, but nonetheless remains largely untouched and only picked at.
Hyo-ju seems to be going through the motions of your typical teenager, not listening to her farther, asking to get dropped off at school some distance away to avoid embracement, and a general lack of open and honest communication. Her farther is deeply lonely, and only wishes to fill the space between them, although he is unsure of how exactly to do this. The film ends on a positive note as, after teaching her techno-phobic farther to send a text on his phone, she receives a clumsy message from him before going to bed: “Tank you Hyoju, I love you”.
The 14th Jeonju International Film Festival, recently wrapped its festivities, and each year JIFF promotes the shorter format as well as producing its own omnibus films entitled “Short! Short! Short!”. Fans who missed out should not feel aggrieved because coming up in June is the 12th Mise-en-Scene Short Film Festival (MSFF) that runs from June 28 till July 4 in Seoul. This exciting annual event flies under the banner of “Beyond the Barrier of Genre” and encourages filmmakers to flirt with a variety of film narratives and visual storytelling.
The shorter format has also proved to be the playground for some of Korea’s top directing talent. In 2011, for example, Park Chan-wook (“Old Boy”) and his brother Park Chan-kyong created the mystical and enigmatic Night Fishing. The film received a lot of publicity at the time because it was shot entirely on Apple’s iPhone, and the film ultimately claimed the Golden Bear for Best Short Film at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival. The brother’s didn’t stop there, last year they paired up once again for another fantasy short entitled Day Trip, reminding young Korean filmmakers that the short film category is by no means simply a stepping stone to feature filmmaking.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of Korea’s love for shorts is how the format is also able to find its way into the mainstream cinema circuit. Korean omnibus films are not uncommon and usually contain a number of short films bracketed under a specific theme. 2011 saw the release of “Doomsday Book” which contained three films built around the notion of the end of days. That same year Sorry, Thanks was released and showcased four touching tales about animals in an attempt to raise awareness of animal rights in Korea. The sequel to Horror Stories is also set for release later this year, all of which are testaments to the demand and interest in short films. Be it on the festival circuit or at one of Korea’s cinema houses, short films are making themselves known and will hopefully continue to be encouraged and appreciated, in Korea and abroad.
The short format of filmmaking is an exciting and generally well-supported genre in Korea. Regular competitions at annual festivals, omnibus films feature films, and plenty of encouragement from the industry itself illustrates how Korea’s film industry has been embracing this increasingly popular format of visual storytelling. And for those interested filmmakers, KOFFIA is currently looking for applications for their 2nd Short Film Competition, open to filmmakers from any cultural background (more information visit: http://koreanculture.org.au/major-events/korean-film-festival/shortfilmcomp).
Keep it short and simple!
Written by: C.J. Wheeler (firstname.lastname@example.org)