By Paolo Bertolin
Korea Times Correspondent
ROTTERDAM - Local filmmaker Whang Cheol-mean won a prize awarded by film critics at the closing ceremony of the 34th International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) on Friday.
Whang received the FIRPRESCI Prize, given by an organization of international film critics, for his film "Spying Cam (Frakchi)". The film was in the VPRO Tiger Awards Competition section of the event, which began on Jan. 26.
The Tiger Award, the top prize of the festival, was shared by three films: "The Sky Turns" by Mercedes Alvares, an intimate documentary on a shrinking Spanish village; "4" by Ilya Khrzhanovsky, a fresco of contemporary Russian decline; and "Nemmeno il Destino" by Daniele Gaglianone, a portrait of disadvantaged Italian youth.
Whang, who studied media and cinematography in Germany, has long been a prominent figure in Korean independent filmmaking and is the current director of the Korean Independent Film Association. But Whang said on the eve of the closing ceremony that recognition in Rotterdam was critical.
"The film does not have a Korean distributor yet and winning a prize here would help me find one", Whang said.
"Frakchi", which comes from the Russian word "fraksiya", refers to a government spy who infiltrated students' organizations during the period of military dictatorship in Korea. Whang said the film was inspired by a former frakchi he met in Germany.
Whang said he meant his film "for the Korean people who closed their eyes in the past to bad things and misery" so that they could "grow more mature and look at the future with a new perspective and point of view".
Whang's tense and ambiguous picture is mostly set in a motel room, where two men lock themselves up with a video camera during a sweltering summer. While motel maids assume they are gay, the interplay inside the room becomes increasingly strange, especially when the two start rehearsing "Crime and Punishment" to kill time.
Whang's affirmation in Rotterdam is not a first for Korea. Park Chan-ok
's "Jealousy Is My Middle Name" won a Tiger Award here two years ago, and IFFR has always featured Korean films in its program.
Rotterdam is one of the biggest film festivals in the world, with 24 screens operating over 12 days with more than 350,000 visitors. Other Korean films this year included Kim Ki-duk
's "Samaria" and "3-Iron (Bin-jip)"; Noh Dong-seok
's "My Generation"; Kim Soo-hyeon
's "So Cute"; Hong Sang-soo
's "Woman is the Future of Man"; and Asian horror omnibus "Three... Extremes - Three, Monster", with "Cut" by Park Chan-wook
In addition, Yoo Soon-mi's powerful "Ssitkim: Talking to Death", on South Korea's controversial participation in the Vietnam War, was included in the short films section.
Back in 1997, IFFR was the first international event to showcase the maverick filmmaker Jang Sun-woo
, so it's no wonder that this year CinemArt, the festival's market for art-house co-production, selected his new project, "A Thousand of Plateaus", based on the suggestive Mongolian tale of a Hun boy's undying love for his horse.
During the festival, officials of Hong Kong-Asian Film Financing Forum (HAF), an Asian co-production market modeled on CinemArt to be held Mar. 22-24 concurrently with Entertainment Expo Hong Kong, announced their 28 short-listed projects, of which three are Korean: "In Your Eyes" by Park Kwang-su; "Knife" by Song Il-gon
; and "Love Talk" by Lee Yoon-ki
Representatives of Korean festivals also attended IFFR. Jeonju International Film Festival announced the new series of "Digital Short Films by Three Filmmakers", with contributions from Song Il-gon
, Thailand's Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Japan's Tsukamoto Shin'ya. The recently disbanded programmers committee of the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (PIFAN) circulated a press release in hope of gaining support from the international film community for creating a new film festival in Korea.