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KOFFIA – not just another film festival

Hieu Chau

Mon Sep 24 2012


FOR Hieu Chau, this year’s Korean Film Festival was entertaining, engaging  and, in some ways, in a league of its own. He shares how KOFFIA helped him rediscover his love for film festivals. 

For this writer, one of the best things about living in Melbourne is the seemingly never ending cycle of film festivals that run across the year. It almost appears as though once one film festival ends, another begins immediately after.

While I can’t speak for the other cities in Australia, I’d like to believe that Melbourne is the epicentre for celebrating and nurturing the arts, particularly that of cinema. After all, we do host one of the oldest running film festivals in the world – and certainly the oldest within Australia: the Melbourne International Film Festival.

You might not consider yourself an ardent filmgoer or a cinephile but you’ll find that wherever your interests may lie, there could very well be a film festival or a whole season programmed entirely toward your interests!

I had the pleasure of attending this year’s Korean International Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA) and discover my connection to Korean cinema. Korean cinema has really exploded in the last decade and has arguably become a leader in East Asian cinema. KOFFIA brought an eclectic mix of films ranging from nostalgically heartfelt comedies and psychologically bruising dramas to exciting war epics that really highlighted the brazen appeal of Korean cinema.

All the films I watched were interesting in one way or another. And while there may have been a few that were more divisive than others, I can’t say I was put off by any of them. Each film was chosen according to the theme of the festival and I came away from KOFFIA with not only a greater appreciation of the cinema of South Korea but also a re-discovered excitement for film festivals.

Just before the opening film of KOFFIA, Sunny, was about to commence, I remember sitting in the packed cinema at ACMI with my friend and observing the people around me. I do this more often than I’d like to admit while I’m at the movies, but I do it because I like to gauge what kind of audience I’m watching the film with, and how receptive to the film they might be.

Looking around, I noticed there was quite a healthy mix of people, from seniors to students and locals to internationals. I was immediately reminded how unique a film festival environment can be. Even having gone to a few of these screenings on my own, I felt I was part of a communal experience. I knew I could confidently talk with the person beside me about what films they had seen at the festival and how they were introduced to Korean cinema. I think the fact KOFFIA is relatively young (running in its third year but only  in Melbourne for a second time) made that feeling of community even more palpable.

The KOFFIA volunteers pose for us after their re-enactment of a famous scene from the Korean classic, Oldboy. Photographer: Jun-Yeu Mah

Film festivals all tend to have a rather lively atmosphere, mostly accompanied by the burgeoning excitement of seeing new films or, if the festival has permitted it, the chance to see classics in their original prints. During the festival, I had a conversation with KOFFIA’s artistic director, Kieran Tully, about some of the films and was impressed with how he was able to acquire them for KOFFIA.

Unfortunately for some of these films, the festival will be their first and only time screening in Australia, as local distributors have been reluctant to pick them up. While this is not new, it certainly makes the need to attend film festivals all the more important because you’ll never know what rare gems you’ll uncover. Or whether or not you’ll ever come in to contact with them again. These festivals give films that would usually be given a miss an opportunity to shine and a platform for audiences to see just what a country’s cinema scene is capable of.

Tim Phillips from Screen Australia and Nicholas Tripodi from VFX/animation studio Iloura discuss the animated feature, Leafie: A Hen Into the Wild and the future of Korean animation. Photographer: Sarah Lim

More often than not, if a film festival is celebrating the cinema of a particular country, you’ll find a few events here and there celebrating and promoting the culture of that country as well.

Industry forums inviting discussion between panellists and the audience are common within many film festivals. But culturally specific events tend to include other attractions such as live performances.

With KOFFIA, insightful discussions about topics such as the potential rise of Korean animation as well as their flash mob performance of the internet sensation, Gangnam Style, contributed to a memorable and successful event.

KOFFIA Style! Photographer: Jun-Yeu Mah

But what’s a good festival without the help of vibrant volunteers? As much work as the organisers put into producing a fun-filled event, it’s the volunteers who help add another degree of enjoyment to the festival. Through their support, film festivals are allowed to run as smoothly as they do which ensures that visitors aren’t so overwhelmed by the craziness of it all.

Photographer: Jun Yeu-Mah

Film culture and film festivals in Melbourne seem to grow bigger and better every year.

Needless to say, I look forward to KOFFIA’s return to Melbourne in 2013 and hope that with each year, new attendees are invited to discover their connection with cinema and film culture.

With festivals like KOFFIA and outlets like the Melbourne Cinematheque, ACMI, the Astor Theatre or the Rooftop Cinema, Melbourne cineastes are indeed spoiled rotten when it comes to satisfying their movie-going pleasures.