VIFF Dragons & Tigers winners on Korean, Filipino film industries

South Korean director Jang Kun-Jae, who won the Vancouver International Film Festival’s $10,000 Dragons & Tigers Award for Young Cinema on October 8 for his drama Eighteen (Hwioribaram), laments the weakening of his country’s screen-quota system, which gave rise to the hallyu, or Korean wave.

“The days of the screen-quota system has significantly diminished because of Korea–United States FTA [free-trade agreement],” the 31-year-old filmmaker said through a translator.

“He is strongly, strongly against the cultural policy of the current government,” his translator explained. “The screen quota itself helps, but it’s been diminished and the government is constantly trying to negotiate with the American government.”

This quota system, initiated in 1966, required South Korean theatres to show domestic films 146 days of the year until that number was halved in 2006 to 73 days. International observers, including Canadians, often cite South Korea’s system as a model of how to nurture a domestic film industry in the face of Hollywood dominance.

Meanwhile, the Filipino film industry has also been garnering attention. Director Brillante Mendoza competed in two consecutive years for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes International Film Festival, which also screened Raya Martin’s Independencia (also a VIFF 2009 selection).

“Before World War II, we were doing over 100 films a year,” Dragons & Tigers juror and Filipino film writer Noel Vera said in an interview after the award presentation at the Granville 7 cinemas. “And it’s probably Southeast Asia’s best-kept secret that we were a centre of filmmaking then and even now.”

Ralston Jover’s Bakal Boys, about young scrap-metal collectors in Manila, received an honourable mention at the award presentation. “The subject matter is something unusual even to Filipinos,” Vera said. “For a big chunk of the film when I was watching it, I could not recognize Manila.”¦I believe what’s unusual here is that juxtaposition of large, abandoned machinery and huge concrete landscapes against these tiny figures eking out a living, trying to earn money, 20 pesos a kilo for scrap metal.”

Dragons & Tigers programmer Tony Rayns said that the jurors—Japanese avant-garde pioneer Ikeda Hiroyuki, San Francisco Bay Guardian arts and entertainment editor Johnny Ray Huston, and Vera—decided to remove Chris (Chan Fui) Chong’s Karaoke from the competition. Rayns explained that the Dragons & Tigers award goes to a new director from the Asia-Pacific region who hasn’t received international recognition. The Malaysian film won the inaugural $25,000 Mavericks award at the Calgary International Film Festival on October 3.