By Seo Dong-shin
Geoffrey Gilmore, long-time director of the Sundance Film Festival, praised the creativity in Asian cinema, speaking Monday of its influence over the West's mainstream commercial movies over the last decades.
"During the last decade, which part of the world made the best films? Asia. No doubt about it", said Gilmore, meeting with reporters on the occasion of the 4th EBS International Documentary Film Festival (EDIF) that kicked off in Seoul Monday. Gilmore, who has been leading Sundance, a world-renowned U.S. independence cinema festival, for 18 years, heads the five-member jury of the EDIF this year.
The 57-year-old admitted he has had a special passion for Asian cinema, including Korean, ever since his days as a student of UCLA film school. He said that whether horror genre films, campy gangster films, or minimalist art films, the full spectrum of Asian filmmakers from countries like China, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan and Korea have presented quality films, but most of the world still doesn't know that and has a limited appreciation of how great Asian films are.
"There's a uniqueness to the works done here. Korean or Asian films are not bound by art film aesthetics, and it allows a certain kind of freedom", he said.
Stressing the expertise of Wong Kar Wai to use his point, whom he considers "probably one of the five best filmmakers in the world", Gilmore said that the competence of Asian cinema seems to come from the willingness to push the edge, which does not always work with audiences.
Wong's latest film "My Blueberry Nights" opened the Cannes Film Festival this year. "It may not be his best film, but it's experimenting, and is not constrained by this idea of who he is", Gilmore said. "There are many European or American filmmakers who make the same films every two years, and I'm bored by them".
The Asian cinema's "reinvention of genres" has also had a direct influence on the aesthetics of Hollywood blockbusters released this summer, Gilmore said. He was talking more about general sensibility that changed Hollywood over the years, such as plot, characters and how they develop, but specific examples can be also found _ for example, aerial fighting scenes in "Spider Man 3" that resemble those in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".
Gilmore first came to South Korea in the mid-1980s, and has since then come back to visit more than ten times. When the offer of the EDIF head jury was made, he was initially unsure due to his busy schedule, but then found himself interested in exploring more about Seoul, as he was to visit Korea for the Pusan International Film Festival next month anyway.
"(Film) Festivals are really nothing more than platforms; a way of getting attention, a way of getting visibility for films", said Gilmore. He thinks that the EDIF, which takes place by simultaneously showing films on screen in public and broadcasting on television channel, can be a model for future film festivals.
"Documentaries never had an easy time being shown theatrically, anywhere in the world", he said. "That's changed somewhat during the last few years in the United States, with Michael Moore's films and Al Gore's `Inconvenient Truth'. But the idea that broadcasting can help documentaries' visibility, it's a major achievement".
The annual EDIF continues until Sept. 2, with selected public screenings at EBS Space, Megabox COEX, Gallery Loop, inD Theater at Yonsei University, and Art Space Camerata, as well as on EBS channel. Master classes, seminars and forums are also scheduled. Gilmore, for example, will speak on "American Independence Documentary, Where Is It Going?" at EBS Space on Tuesday, 13:30 p.m.
Gilmore is proud of his film festival, Sundance, for being the only film festival in the world that treats documentary on an equal footing with other genre films.
"My boss Robert Redford used to say, `if you want to come to Sundance and make sure you'd see a good film, go see a documentary"', he said.
Some of the documentary films that were introduced, and even awarded, at recent Sundance editions can be also seen during the EDIF, including "The Monastery-Mr.Vig & the Num", "Enemies of Happiness', "How Was Your Fish Today?" and "Black Gold".