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When the Lights Dim: A Film Projectionist's Story

2008/09/05 | 182 views | Permalink | Source

Lee Gilwoong has studiously stood by this loud mechanical beast with parent-like affection for more than half of his 50-year career as a projector operator at a movie theater in Seoul.
His rickety folding chair has become a director's seat in this small "staff only" room after he became the chief projectionist at Dream Cinema in 1984.

[Interview : Lee Gilwoong, Film projectionist of 50 years] "Back then, the quality of film wasn't as good, and I had to splice it together again and again because by the time a single reel had circulated for screening at major theaters across the nation it became brittle. Despite the difficult work environment, a packed audience always made me pull through".

The 70-something projectionist is a self-proclaimed movie buff, who says his favorite movie of all time is the 1948 movie version of "Carmen".
The veteran virtuoso says he has never looked back once he chose to work in the field right after dropping out of middle school.

[Reporter : reporter:남기영]
"Some may think that a projectionist's job is to simply mount a film reel and press the 'play' button, but the profession requires skills, which include splicing ads and trailers, as well as troubleshooting picture and audio hiccups".

Mr. Lee admits his heyday as a projectionist has long gone since the debut of DVDs, multiplexes and fully automated projectors.
He spoke frankly about how he tries to persuade young people not to follow his career path because even with conviction and passion for film hellish work hours and a near-minimum wage take a toll.
By the time a film hits cinemas most likely it's the director and actors who receive all the attention for their performance whether it be good or bad.
The production crew is thanked for their contributions in the movie's end credits but projectionists are rarely, if ever, recognized for their work even though they stay with the audience every frame of the way.

[Interview : Lee Gilwoong, Film projectionist of 50 years]
"Even after all those years as a projectionist, I can have peace of mind only when the day's showings have finished, the last customer has left and the theater's shutters have been closed. That's when I finally call it a night. The security person and I are always the last people to leave".

Mr. Lee says he could care less about receiving praise for his life-long dedication as a projectionist which is an epic tale in and of itself and a story still in the making.

Nam Kiyung, Arirang News.

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