South Korean Filmmakers Condemn Government Blacklisting of Artists

'The Unjust'

Over 1,000 filmmakers sign a petition to oust the Korean Film Council head and former Busan Film Fest chairman.

More than 1,000 South Korean filmmakers have joined forces against two big-name industry players amid a major government scandal.

On Tuesday, the Directors Guild of Korea said that filmmakers have signed a petition calling for the ouster of Korean Film Council Director Kim Se-hoon and Busan mayor and former Busan Film Festival chairman Suh Byung-soo. The filmmakers condemned the two for endorsing a government blacklist designed to exclude artists from state support programs.

In October, local daily Hankook Ilbo revealed a list featuring nearly 10,000 artists, including Oldboy director Park Chan-wook and Snowpiercer actor Song Kang-ho, and prosecutors recently found evidence that the list was compiled in May 2014 following orders from the president's office.

President Park Geun-hye is currently facing an impeachment trial for a number of corruption and abuse of power charges, and the blacklist is expected to put further pressure on her. Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun, former presidential chief-of-staff Kim Ki-choon and other key figures linked to the blackballing were arrested Jan. 21.

Filmmakers, however, claim that the Korean Film Council head and former Busan festival chairman should also be condemned.

In October 2014, Suh tried to stop the Busan Film Festival from screening a controversial documentary about a tragic April 2014 ferry sinking, The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol. The local film industry rose up, organizing some of the largest protests to date and even threatening to boycott the 2016 edition of the festival. Filmmakers condemned Suh's censorship attempt, while fest organizers claimed that it suffered "political retaliation" in the form of drastic state budget cuts and unprecedented audit reviews after premiering the documentary. Several founding members of the fest, including former director Lee Yong-kwan and market head Jay Jeon, were forced to resign.

The Korean Film Council halved its annual funding for Busan from $1.3 million in 2014 to $731,000 in 2015, but the state-run film body explained that it was in line with a new program to fund smaller local film festivals. Officially, President Park has made promoting Korean movies and other cultural products one of her top priorities. Prosecutors, however, recently found evidence that, in addition to the blacklist, orders to cut funding for Busan came directly from the president's office following the documentary controversy. In late December, the Korean Film Council's labor union released a public statement condemning the council's head Kim Se-hoon for "failing to fulfill his role and endorsing the Park Geun-hye administration's unfair measures to oppress the film industry."

"The most serious problem is that authorities are trying to control our thoughts," said Veteran filmmaker Ryoo Seung-wan. "Freedom of thought and expression are our greatest values and it is disconcerting that we are being deprived of this." Ryoo added that he was more or less aware of a blacklist, as programmers had faced difficulty screening his 2010 film The Unjust at local film festivals. The film is about how the Korean National Police Agency tries to cover up a mistake in a high-profile serial murder case by hiring an actor to play the role of the primary suspect.