It’s cool being at the 15th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival’s Asian Producer’s Lab in Korea

BUCHEON CITY, South Korea—From the outset, this place has a high regard for films and filmmaking, local and overseas.

It houses, for one, the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, also known as PiFan, an annual world film event now on its fifteenth year.

The festival was already over but I still have vivid memories of the place, its events and its people.

A towering edifice of PiFan stands proudly in a vast land very near this city, a fixture of Korea’s flourishing movie business concentrated on genre films, i.e., fantasy.

What is grand about this building are its annexes, all of them as big as the main structure, collectively housed in a hub called Korea Manhwa Contents Agency where the Network of Asian Fantastic Films (NAFF) Fantastic Film School, Korean Manhwa Museum, Korean Pop Art Centre and several art and cultural offices are located.

Adjacent to the PiFan high rise is the Fantastic Studios which is also a huge site like any studio in the world we see on printed materials as glossy mags, web pages and videos e.g. Universal Studios, Walt Disney and other magnificent film centers in world key cities.

PiFan’s Fantastic Studios is one of the prides of Gyeonggi Province where this city is affiliated and specific locations like bars, period pagodas and palaces, tramlines, hospitals etc are available to local and foreign film and TV productions.

According to film authorities in Korea, PiFan is one of the largest film festivals in their country as prominent as Pusan and Jeonju International Film Festivals.

As a matter of fact, there are still other big world film fests in Korea like Jecheon International Music and Film Festival, SeNef (Seoul International Film Festival), Seoul International Youth Film Festival and WFFIS (International Women’s Film Festival in Seoul).

All of them are assisted by the Korean Film Council under the umbrella of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

From these alone, one can size up the gigantic and selfless support of the government to its film community. But that’s another story.

Although I missed the opening night of PiFan because I was still in transit, the enormous Bucheon Gymnasium was its venue filled to the rafters with India’s masterpiece, “Bollywood the Greatest Love Story Ever Told” co-directed by celebrated filmmakers Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Jeff Zimbalist about the history of popular India’s cinema as opening film, the photos I requested and sent to me by young Korean filmmaker Jongkwan Paik were enough assurance the gala was very successful with government leaders, diplomatic corps and pop Korean artists in attendance.

A total of 220 films from 40 countries were screened in the festival.

I was here because I was selected as one of the exclusive participants to the 4th NAFF FFS Asian Producers Lab with the rest of the fifteen delegates from all over Asia.

According to Jongsuk Thomas Nam, NAFF Senior Manager, this year’s program was especially designed for the first time to nationals outside Korea.

Seven delegates were from Korea, particularly Seoul and Bucheon; four each from Hong Kong and Taiwan and one each from Singapore and the Philippines.

Courses offered during the entire platform were apparently post-modern and business oriented although some sounded refreshers like Trans-media, Storytelling in Trans-media Environment, Micro-Budget Film Production, Entertainment Law, Field Knowledge on 3D and VFX, Global Co-Production, Adaptation and Remake, International Sales and Present and Future of Asian Cinema but nonetheless were lectured and lent new insights and perspectives most interestingly and excitingly tackled by masters and knowledgeable speakers from each area of concern.

John Heinsen, erstwhile Primetime Programming Manager of FOX Broadcasting Company and had served as member of the Board of Delegates of the New Media Council for the Producers Guild of America and now Co-Chair of Mobile talked and encouraged us the use of new media like email, Facebook, iPad, Twitter and other cyber platforms to sell films and other visuals.

American film director David Kaplan (“Little Red Riding Hood” (1997) starring Christina Ricci; “Play,” a film which won Best Short at the 2010 PiFan; “Year of the Fish” (2007) which premiered at Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival etc) gave  enlightening ideas on micro-budget film production and insightful inspiration in budding filmmakers like us.

“You have to use popular stars who are your friends in your projects,” Kaplan reminded us.

Korean independent producer Miae Choi of Treefilm streamlined indie filmmaking process and cautioned us the use of available materials. “My director had to sell his car just to finish our project and I had to loan in a bank as well as buy hamburgers for my stars,” Choi chuckled as she recalled a scene taken in a snowy place near Seoul because they weren’t permitted to shoot in North Korea for political reasons about a defector.

Though they were bereft of big budget but their films, one of them “Town Trilogy,” she said, has already been given honors in many international film fests like Tokyo, Geneva, New York etc.

Kay Heeyoung Kim, Executive Producer of Macrograph, Inc., a technology driven company expounded on the current craze on graphics and visual effects while Korean lawyer Hong Sungkee ran through legal contexts of film contents and their corresponding commercial laws.

Korean producer Jonathan Kim of Hollywood remake “Ring,” “Sassy Girl” and many more shared his ten-cent worth of global co-production knowledge and activities and the prevailing socio-political-cultural realities around the scheme.

He was very encouraging and practical about approaches to filmmaking and made us very glued to his speech, theoretical and experiential.

Malaysian-American Tim Kwok was too pragmatic in his way into co-production in the changing landscape of film global concerns as he gave us tips in proper pitching of film projects to prospective investors.

Hollywood producer Mike Macari of “Shelter” starring Julianne Moore and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers was very definite in his pieces of advice to young filmmakers about cultural realities of remake and adaptation.

Meanwhile, Frenchman Thierry Wase-Bailey, in his twenty years of international film sales said that “Film is a tough business. I don’t encourage people to produce” but welcomed enterprising and fortified souls to the game.

“Cannes is a very good film market and anyone who wins in Cannes has good chance in the international market,” confirmed Wase-Bailey.

Although he admitted he hadn’t seen any of Cannes 2009 Palm d’Or Best Director Brillante Mendoza, he said that it was a big chance for him to be acknowledged in the market.

Lastly, Hollywood Reporter and Variety writer Patrick Frater talked on the contemporary and future of Asian cinema through the historical rise of disruptive technology like current gadgets as cell phone, iPad etc.

It was a very rewarding experience for all of us students—daring Eunsun Kang, a student of communication at the Dongkuk Women’s University; introspective Namkyun Kim, a filmmaker who graduated with a degree in Literature and Philosophy from Dongkuk University; enigmatic Catherine Kim who finished Film Production from Ohio University; open-minded Byungchue Min, a young film director; friendly Paik, a Philosophy graduate from Chung-ang University in Seoul and classy Julia Joo-Hyun Lee, a student from Hongik University and film director; and articulate Kyubum Huh, a film graduate from New York Film Academy, Koreans;

Assertive Albert Koon Yiu Leung, a graduate of Film and TV from Sheridan College and executive at Walt Disney; newbie Allan Tsz Wai Kwan, film director; intelligent Wai Kit Wong, an active filmmaker and interactive Ho Ka Ho, creative media student at the Hong Kong University, Hong Kong nationals;

Low profile Vic Cheng Wei-hao, young filmmaker; profound Fu-Hsiang Hsu, filmmaker graduate from Taipei National University; keen Chen Nien Ko, filmmaker and cool Bruce Hwang Chen, a student from UCLA and Columbia University of New York Film Studies, graphic designer in US, all Taiwanese; and

Enterprising and prolific young filmmaker Ghazi Alqudcy was the sole Singaporean.

I might be the more senior among the participants but I was also the pet of my younger fellow students.

We had team meetings, most of my teammates inspired, integrated and cooperative, and prepared ourselves to pitching projects however only exercises but we learned a lot from the experience some of the producers told us we were even more aggressive than professional pitchers.

Changwook Han, FFS staff and Sun Bang, NAFF Coordinator and their volunteers were very helpful to all of us every step of the way.

After graduation, Han with his fellow staff Serah Lee of IT Project and Moon Son Ham of Industry Project together with a majority of my classmates treated me to drinks and friendly chats before we bid each other adieu.

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