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Art Films Look for Different Ways to Stay in Theaters

2005/05/16 Source

By Kim Tae-jong
Staff Reporter

How long a feature film will remain in the theaters is usually decided by its box-office performance in its first week. A weak showing means a film will quickly be pushed out of the theaters by potentially more lucrative movies.

Recently, some art film directors are trying to overcome this rule-of-thumb, looking for a different strategy for their films to be enjoyed by more people in a stable condition.

"The Bow (Hwal)", the latest work by internationally acclaimed local director Kim Ki-duk, is now being shown at two theaters nationwide because the director doesn't want to waste his money unnecessarily to promote it and make copies of it to show at many theaters.

"I realized that outside of feature films with big budgets and famous stars, people in Korea do not go to theaters to watch art films or low budget films", Kim said through an e-mail sent out to the media on May 6. "So if billions of won is spent on promotion and many copies of the film are made, losing money becomes inevitable given this reality".

Since he wants to make sure the "The Bow" is seen by those who are willing to spend their time and money for his film, he didn't even hold a preview screening event for the media, which is considered customary here. And he only plans to gradually expand the number of theaters depending on its success.

Opened Thursday, "The Bow" attracted 996 moviegoers over the weekend at two theaters _ Cinus G Theater in KangNam in Seoul and Busan Theater in Pusan. The seat occupation rate has remained slightly over 20 percent.

Kim gained a huge reputation by winning awards at international film festivals such as last year's Silver Lion Special Prize for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival and the Best Director prize at the Berlin Film Festival earlier in the year. But despite his success on the international festival circuit, his films are not commercial successes at the local box office.

Another renowned art film director Hong Sang-soo also believes that showing his film in the same manner as big budget films, which are shown at many theaters with billions of won spent on promotion, will obviously lead him to see another commercial failure and eliminate the chance for his fans to see his movie at theaters.

"My previous films have never reached the break-even point, so I have been thinking that I have to reduce production cost. That's why I established my own production company. And I am now discussing releasing my new film at only certain theaters for a long time with its investment and distribution company", Hong told reporters Wednesday after the preview screening of his latest film, "Tale of Cinema (Kukjangjon)".

The movie was invited to the Cannes Film Festival this year like other films such as "The Power of Kangwon Province", "Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors" and "Woman is the Future of Man", but Hong said success at film festivals has had nothing to do with domestic commercial success.

As Hong planned, Chungeorahm Film, the domestic investment and distribution company of "Tale of Cinema", will release the film only at certain theaters that promise to show it for at least three weeks regardless of its commercial success.

"It costs around 3 or 4 million won to make a copy of a film, which means at least more than 1,500 people should see it to be profitable", said Helen Jung, marketing manger of Chungeorahm Film. "And if you add almost the same budget of the production cost for promotion, it will be more risky".

However, some people are skeptical about the new strategy since the competition with commercial films is not a matter of how long a film can be shown but how much money they can earn for the people involved.

"I don't think that longer screening days for art films does not necessarily mean that more moviegoers will see them", said Kim Dong-hyun, distribution manager of Cinema Service, a local distribution company. "I agree that the new method can reduce risks in distributing art films, but production companies, investors and theater owners want to make good money out of it".

A more stable way to show art films is to make art film directors, investors and distributors feel free from the pressure of commercial success, Kim said. "Without any financial support and aid from the government or the film industry that realize the importance of art films, they won't be able to survive the competition with commercial films".

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