Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: July 2010

From PiFan to Pentaport — a Week of Festivals

Last week was surprisingly busy, but mostly in a fun way. Starting the 16th, I was over in Bucheon for the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, or PiFan. It was the first time in three years I had spent that much time at the festival, and it was a lot of fun to get reacquainted with its rhythms and style.

The general pattern was: go to an early movie at 11am, then do my interviews and writing (I was contributing to the festival’s dailies), then there was usually some kind of reception or event starting around 7, which would be followed by some informal drinking, which would be followed by more fun (or a noraebang), finally wrapping up some time around 3-4am. Repeat. Some days you have more movies, some days more work, some days more fun, but that was the basic outline. But with plenty of interesting guests in town, it was quite fun.

The Festival now has an industry section called the Network of Asian Fantastic Films (NAFF), with a country spotlight, film education events, film pitch sessions for filmmakers and investors and things like that. It really contributes to the number of film professionals at the festival and makes everything feel more official.

But it also creates a bit of a cocoon effect, where you spend a lot of time hanging out in this big group, and the movie part of the festival gets a little sidelined. Especially now that almost all the movies are in two big multiplexes down the road from the industry hotel, PiFan has lost a lot of the festival mood it once had. Festival director Kim Young Bin said as much to me, and he really wants to get the city more involved next year.

One of the things I really liked about PiFan the first time I went, around 2000 or so, was how integrated with the community it felt. You could sit outside at a chicken restaurant (when it was not raining), and in one big group you might have some directors and actors, some press, some volunteers and some local film fans. The city seemed a lot more excited about the festival. It would be nice to get a little of that vibe back.

The short film winner was my friend David Kaplan, who made the very good movie PLAY. And you can actually see it online. It is a lot of fun and even has some thinky bits.

* * *

Then on Thursday, I traveled a little further west to Incheon, where I was a participant at the first Pentaport Music Conference. Obviously, this event is a spinoff of the Pentaport Rock Festival (held last weekend), and this year, for the first time, they invited some big music professionals from the United States and around Asia to network with the local music scene.

And I do not mean SM Entertainment or the big pop labels. Korea actually has a few dozen small rock and indie labels, and they came out to meet some experts from other countries.

Among the speakers was me, which was a little strange — as a writer, my only audience is usually cats. But it was fun (and scary) speaking before a big room of music industry professionals. And it was great to meet so many new people in the music biz.

Saturday, a few of us went to Pentaport for the actual music. No way was there 27,000 people there, as reported, but it was a decent turnout. The highlight was seeing LCD Soundsystem, who were as bouncy and dancy as I had hoped — although I think their new album is kind of dull compared to their earlier stuff. The Korean band Ynot had a pretty good turnout. Vassline was WAY TOO LOUD, but from a distance it seemed solid. A surprising good diversity of food in the food area, and lines were all reasonable. All in all, a good time.

Random Updates (Inception Rocks!)

Very interesting article up on Film Business Asia about the state of movie box office all over Asia. Good news from Korea, where 3D, IMAX and rising ticket prices are helping the industry make more money:

In Korea, using KOBIS (영화관입장권통합전산망) data, admissions were down 4% at 69.4 million tickets, but box office expressed in local currency was up 15% at ₩547 billion ($447 million).

But the crazy news comes from China, where apparently the film business could DOUBLE again this year. In fact, at the current pace, it looks like the China box office is going to overtake Korea’s for the first time:

The biggest growth story of the lot was China – again – where box office revenue doubled year-on-year. Revenue for Jan. 1 – June 27 was an estimated RMB4.52 billion ($667 million) compared with RMB2.26 billion in the first half of 2009.

– By the way, in CJ CGV’s Korea box office report for the first half of 2010 (no links, sorry) — and they say that it was Korea’s worst first-half in over four years by attendance, with 70.04 million admissions (CJ’s numbers were slightly higher than KOBIS, which had 69.4 million). Overall for 2010, Korean films have accounted for 43 percent of the box office, down from 45 percent last year (although up from 37.6 percent in 2008).

Thanks to the World Cup, June was the worst June in years, with barely 10 million admissions (compared to 11, 11, 14 and 13 million over the past four years). But while attendance was down, Korean movies did relatively well with 50.4 percent of the box office (compared to 30, 30, 25, and 36 over the past four years).

– The Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival starts this Thursday. Looks like a fun lineup this year, especially the Korean ’70s action cinema section. Definitely looking forward to spending some time there this year.

– Oh, and I just saw INCEPTION, the latest Christopher Nolan film. All I can say is “Wow,” what an amazing movie. Total spectacle, but a first-rate story, too. Creative and difficult, but totally accessible.

These days, when people say a film is “nonstop action”, what they usually mean is nonstop shaky camera, noise and silliness. INCEPTION is nonstop, but all the action and effects are going toward telling a great story (in this regard, it is almost like a Pixar movie). In fact, INCEPTION almost makes me angry — angry that so few other filmmakers take the time to tell a story so engrossing and so tight.

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