By Lee Hyo-won
Korea's first digital film festival Cinema Digital Seoul 2007 (CinDi) finally came to a close after its weeklong debut July 20-27. The event marked a humble beginning with much potential growth in the future _ especially given its unique focus on digital films, the movies of today and tomorrow.
Screening 40 progressive films from 14 different countries, and offering four ''digital lessons'' by renowned film experts, CinDi spotlighted rising young Asian directors and educated moviegoers about new cinematic trends. Capturing motion pictures as digital images on hard disks, rather than on film, digital movies are natural progenies in the advent of technology.
The convenient and accessible method of using handy high-definition (HD) videos thrives among independent filmmakers. Yet CinDi attempted to break the stereotype that digital films are low budget only. Traditional film camera makers like Arri and Panavision, along with consumer and broadcast video companies like Sony and Panasonic now produce professional HD cameras.
Last Thursday evening, cinematographer Jeong Jeong-hoon gave the third of the festival's four ''digital lessons'' on the Thomson Viper, a three-sensor camera that can capture 1920 x 1080 pixel images. After the screening of ''I am a Cyborg but That's Okay'' (2006), directed by Park Chan-wook and starring pop star Rain, Jeong, who was in charge of the film's cinematography, lectured the small audience. He showed how the Viper looks just like a standard film camera, but has all the benefits of a handheld camcorder, and can capture minute details even under dark lighting conditions.
Cinema Digital Seoul chose to show ''Cyborg'' not simply because the esteemed Park created it, but because it is one of the world's few, and Korea's first, commercial digital films to have been created with the Viper. Chung Seong-il, co-director of the festival's organizing committee and one of the most renowned film critics in the country, explained that ''Cyborg'' marks a turning point in Korean film history by showing that big budget films can be digitally shot.
Park and Jeong learned how to maneuver the new camera alongside director David Fincher, who was at the time filming ''Zodiac,'' slated for a Korean release mid-August.
When asked by a female audience member about the effect of digital films on consumers, Jeong explained that because digital films are stored in digital form, audiences will be able to enjoy movies of the same visual quality no matter which screen they watch them on. It also facilitates the process of distributing films.
But that doesn't mean digital HD cameras will completely replace traditional filming methods, according to Jeong. New digital filmmaking techniques simply give filmmakers an additional option, and it is up to the individual to weigh the pros and cons of each method.
''I have led a long career as a director, but I do not know anything about digital film,'' said Korea's celebrated veteran director Im Kwon-taek (''Chunhyang,'' 2000), when he made an appearance at the opening reception July 20. ''It's a genre that I feel I must learn.''
It was in such a spirit that ''Inland Empire'' (2006) by David Lynch, the maker of ''Mulholland Drive'' (2001), opened the festival. The choice testifies the courage of the 62-year-old director, a veteran of the analog/celluloid age, who fearlessly explored new ground in cinema.
In the festival's competition, two works won both the Director's Award and Critic's Award, ''The Last Lumberjacks'' by Yu Guangyi (2006, China) and ''The Elephant and the Sea'' by Woo Ming Jin (2007, Malaysia).
The jury of directors and critics both gave special mention to Wang Bing's ''Fengming, A Chinese Memoir'' (2007, China), which won the Young Critic's Award. ''Lost in Tokyo'' by Ikawa Kotaro (2006, Japan) received the Audience Award.
Overall, the festival had a compact lineup of quality films, and offered an intimate atmosphere for movie buffs to indulge in hard-to-see works and meet various film experts. Although the summer season overflows with lots of film festivals, CinDi managed to differentiate itself from them and draw a fair amount of attention despite being its debut. Moviegoers can look forward to a more diversified and digitally electrifying festival next year.