Q&A: Cho Hee-moon

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Since his appointment last month as chairman of the Korean Film Council, Cho Hee-moon has remained low-profile from his industry and media, and spent most of his time and energy "figuring out" what had gone wrong inside the state-funded film body. His role is seen as particularly sensitive, given the controversial resignation of Kang Han-sup, Cho's predecessor, who was forced to step down from his post after the council had infamously received the lowest grade of all public agencies in the government's annual performance review. A month after his rough landing, the 52-year-old film scholar who once attracted blame from his opponents for openly supporting the reduction of the local screen quota system, a policy forcing local theaters to screen Korean movies for at least 146 days of the year, stresses increasing "self-reliance" of the Korean film industry. He defines the council's role as "a peacemaker" -- not "a supervisor" -- and wants his band to reclaim its tarnished reputation from the public. Cho spoke with The Hollywood Reporter Korea correspondent Park Soo-mee about the council's new role and what it means to take his position in such a difficult time.

The Hollywood Reporter: Since your appointment, what has been on top of your agenda?

Cho Hee-moon: It was to work [for the council] to regain trust from the government and the industry. The council is a government body that oversees policy development and executes programs related to Korean film industry. The credibility that we're here to help the industry is crucial. We also need validation from the government that we're successful in achieving those goals. It's also important that our program increases diversity and vitality of Korean cinema so that in the long run we can expand the scope of international exchanges with other countries.

THR: You were one of the few Korean experts to openly oppose to the reduction of the local screen quota system, and that has caused you some conflicts with the industry. Has your stance on this issue changed since? You often stressed on "self-reliant industry" of Korean cinema. Do you think the Korean film is competitive enough to stand on its own?

Cho: First of all, "conflict" is not the right word. My idea was one of many alternatives that have come up to improve the condition of Korean cinema. It's important to establish the foundation of a film industry to sustain itself, both culturally and commercially. However, a policy or system can support and lay the foundation, but it's up to the industry to materialize those plans. A film environment is changing fast. No condition fully guarantees future security. Luckily, Korean cinema has survived unfortunate conditions in the past, and it's continuing to show dynamic energy. The industry is reliable.

THR: Given the wide spread of the leaked file for the film "Haeundae" on Internet, it's getting clearer that legal measures alone will not solve the issue of illegal downloading in Korea. Some even view that the Korean government had deliberately neglected this issue to nurture the local dot-com industry. What is your suggestion on eradicating online piracy and the future of ancillary market?

Cho: The government is operating various devices, both legal and systematic, to prevent crimes, but is it possible to completely eradicate the illegal activities on web? I would say it's difficult, in the same theory that hiring more police won't help to reduce criminals in a city. Internet environment is a new system. The pros and cons are still very mixed up. The growth of the Internet can have positive impact on local film industry, but we're also seeing the opposite dynamics. Legal control and the shift in perception among Internet users need to improve hand in hand. The issue poses a clear and present danger, but finding the right way to respond will be tricky.

THR: Despite the recent progress, the Korean film industry has been on gradual decline in the last few years. How do you view the situation?

Cho: We can evaluate each film case by case, but the overall flow is more important. Sometimes, someone's got to die to ensure the safety of the rest in the jungle. Through a number of failures, we can learn lessons to succeed and realize new possibilities. Not all films can be successful or win over the audience. The fair competition for success returns as a positive energy after all. The level of self-reliance of the Korean film has remarkably increased, and other countries took our model as an example for their own system. There's no need to respond to every small fluctuations in the industry, and it's time to be confident. However, we also need to be careful. The reason for the recent recession was that we were overconfident with success we have achieved in such a short period of time. The audience is delicate and cutthroat at the same time.

THR: How do you see the role of Pusan?

Cho: It's an arena where films and industry people from Korea and other countries can interact. It should induce social interest about cinema and assist the industry. So far, the festival has grown successfully. However, I do feel that it might have lacked in shaping a more distinctive identity as the festival's scale quickly expanded. Pusan will grow into a better festival if it could balance the scale while characterizing the festival.

THR: Over the years, systems to nurture independent films and expand "multi-purpose screens" to increase opportunities for small budget films have been repeatedly raised within the Culture Ministry. What kinds of assistance can we expect from the council for non-mainstream films?

Cho: It's important that Korean cinema provides cultural diversity as well as the industry's vitality. We're closely paying attention to allow consistent production of non-mainstream films and eliminate possible barriers that could wither their market distribution. But first, we need trust from the industry that the council is on their side. We're going to need a lot of dialogue with the people in the industry.

THR: Is there a mission you would like to pursue during your tenure?

Cho: I want to create an environment where people in the industry find their work fulfilling and joyful. I'm committed to do anything to enrich Korean society with film.
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