By Kim Tae-jong
"I hope this will help change local moviegoers' negative preconceptions about domestic animation films", Lee Jung-ho, producer of the animated feature "Oseam
", said after his film won the top prize in the Annecy International Animation Festival in France last Saturday.
As Lee implied in his remark, local animation films are often neglected by the domestic audience when released at theaters. Despite being commercially unsuccessful in the local market, however, many have recently been received well internationally.
In the festival in France, dubbed "the Cannes of Animation", South Korean animations were spotlighted throughout the six-day event, with a total of 52 local animations being screened.
"The South Korean animation industry is no longer considered just as the largest market in the world for original equipment manufacture (OEM)", Lee Byung-heon, program director of the Seoul International Cartoon and Animation Festival, said. "Now many talented people are devoting themselves to creating interesting animations and improving their quality".
The rest of the world seems to appreciate the quality of local animations, as the festival gave the top prize to another local animation, "Mari Iyagi (My Beautiful Girl, Mari
)", in 2002, and many animation series produced for television have been exported to other countries, gaining popularity and profits.
However, when released in local theaters, these animations were usually unsuccessful despite positive reviews.
When such movies as "Oseam
", "My Beautiful Girl, Mari
" and 2003's blockbuster animation "Wonderful Days
" opened in theaters, they failed to attract enough moviegoers to break even, drawing audiences of only 100,000, 110,000 and 290,000 respectively.
The problem might simply lie in the lack of interest among the local audience, but local theaters in general have also been unwilling to screen them.
"I think this year is really important for the local animation industry", said Lee. "Like local feature films which are now enjoying increasing popularity in the local and international market, I hope animation films will be successful home and abroad from this year".
Lee added, "I am very optimistic about the future of the local animation industry, since we have cutting-edge techniques and a good environment for filmmakers to make high-quality animations".
Since the government is planning to nurture the animation industry as a strategic industry for Seoul, Lee's forecast does not sound unrealistic.
As part of the government's plans to boost the animation film industry, Seoul City Mayor Lee Myung-bak signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Bernard Bosson, mayor of the French city of Annecy before the festival began.
Through the agreement with Annecy, the two cities will help each other in the animation industry and SICAF this year will show some 500 works that were screened during the Annecy festival.
According to Lee, the event in Seoul will also provide local moviemakers with the means to promote their animation films in the same manner as other major film festivals.
"Animation films are no longer just cultural property", said Lee. "They will be a huge business, and characters and stories from animation will also be used for games and tie-in products. And I believe the local animation industry has enough potential".