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Take a Lesson, Trump: Why South Korea’s New President Could Save Korean Cinema

Moon Jae-in has pledged to reverse the repressive policies of the previous administration and bolster government support of South Korea's vibrant film industry.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in

South Korea President
Moon Jae-in

YONHAP/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Donald Trump could learn a lot from new South Korean President Moon Jae-in. As the U.S. artistic community braces for the Trump administration’s proposed elimination of organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, South Korea is celebrating Moon’s plan to bolster government support of the arts. That includes the country’s vibrant film production industry, which is the sixth-largest film industry in the world.

READ MORE: Robert De Niro Calls Out Donald Trump’s ‘Bullsh*t’ While Receiving Chaplin Award

On top of stating his willingness to reestablish communication with Kim Jong Un’s regime to help address the North Korean nuclear crisis, Moon has pledged to reverse a number of cultural policies held by former South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who now faces criminal corruption charges following her impeachment. Rolling back Park’s draconian policies of silencing artists could help save the so-called Korean New Wave, which began roughly two decades ago but has faced government repression in recent years. Here’s why.

"The Handmaiden"

“The Handmaiden”

The end of the blacklist

After South Korean filmmakers including Park Chan-wook (“The Handmaiden”) Song Kang-ho (“Snowpiercer”), and Kim Jee-woon (“The Good, The Bad, The Weird”) signed a 2015 declaration criticizing Park’s policies, the filmmakers were placed on a blacklist of some 9,743 individuals who were denied government support. The South Korean government under Park also redirected a fund that supports close to 40 percent of Korean films to back pro-government films. Moon is committed to ending the government blacklist, which he called a “national violence [against art and artists] that infringed upon the fundamental basis of documentary,” Variety reports. 

Pressure on producers

The more conservative government under Park also had a drastic impact on artistic culture in South Korea, as producers did not dare pursue stories that might draw government ire. “All directors, and all the people who work in creative fields, we always want to tell the stories that interest us, but if you’re a director, you first have to find a producer willing to play along with you,” Kim said during an interview with IndieWire at the 2016 Marrakech Film Festival. “With this government in power, it’s been very difficult to find a producer who’s ready for anything.”

Restoring the Korean Film Council

Moon has called for the resignation of Kim Sae-hoon, the chairman of the Korean Film Council. Why? Shortly after Kim was named chairman, KOFIC cut 45 percent of its funding for the Busan International Film Festival, a decision the festival said was politically motivated. “It is easy to suspect that KOFIC’s budget cut is a political retaliation because we tried to defend BIFF’s artistic freedom,” BIFF said in a statement at the time. The festival had recently screened the film “The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol,” which criticized the government’s rescue attempt following the sinking of the Sewol passenger ferry that killed more than 300 people in 2014. City officials in Busan had tried to pull the film from the festival.

READ MORE: Park Chan-wook, Song Kang-ho and More on Korean Government Blacklist

While the U.S. film industry hasn’t had to contend with government interference yet, if the Trump administration budget proposal is approved, reduced funding for the arts will only make it harder for filmmakers and other storytellers to hold authority figures accountable.

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