When VRFocus was in South Korea, they managed to visit the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival which took place from the 11-21st of July 2018. Nina Salomons sat down with Jongmin Kim the curator of the Bifan VR village. He discussed the VR cinema scene in South Korea, how he’s trying to stimulate competition and inspire filmmakers to make virtual reality (VR) films. This year’s focus was on South Korea’s first VR cinema where visitors could either watch the film on a 2D conventional screen or put on a Samsung Odyssey headset and watch a series of films together.
Q: Tell me who you are and what you do here.
A: Hello my name is Jongmin Kim and I curate the VR village in Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival.
Q: Is this the first year that VR is at the film festival?
A: No, this is our third year. We started two years ago and started to curate the VR village then.
Q: Are there any South Korean VR 360 films that are premiering at the VR village?
Q: How many?
A: This year twenty-six Korean films are being shown at the VR village with only two or three of them not premiering at this festival.
Q: Wow, that’s amazing. Congratulations. What’s the general response from the film goers and the public who experience VR?
A: First of all there are many people who are interested in this new medium of virtual reality. Even some people who are interested in traditional filmmaking find this interesting. VR is a medium that puts emphasis on experiences and after experiencing VR, many people start to become interested in it. They come up with some new ideas and unique concepts.
Q: How do you decide to curate your VR films? Do you go to other film festivals to then showcase them here?
A: Currently I am only working in Busan and the reason why I started it was because the Busan International Film Festival has some links with VR, as it’s a fantastical film festival. This kind of film festival has an interest in new kind of meda like VR.
Q: With regards to curation, Venice, SXSW or Sundance do you bring them here if you see they’re successful?
Q: Are there any specific headsets that you are putting into the VR village? Do you have partnerships with HMD manufacturers?
A: So I think it’s not just content that’s leading the innovation in VR. I also think that the headsets play a huge part in it. Every year I try to invite new types of VR headsets to the VR village. This year we had the Odyssey headset provided by Samsung. Even though there are leading VR headsets like Oculus vive and HTC Vive, I think new technology and new VR headsets can stimulate the competition which will boost this industry overall. So that’s why I try to invite companies to showcase their new technology and VR headsets.
Q: Is there an app where people can click the VR village and watch all the content online? Is there online curation of VR films?
A: One of the reasons we can’t do online curation is because there is no online platform for VR right now in Korea. This year several telephone companies are creating online VR platforms and I expect by the end of this year that there will be a way to curate VR online.
Q: I saw some children putting on some VR headsets, also some grandparents which I thought was fantastic – I usually never see that. Are there age restrictions or safety concerns when there are people of different ages experiencing potentially quite intense content like horror films for example?
A: Eventhough VR is designed for horror and thriller, our film festival isn’t a genre film festival. It’s family friendly. I tried to invite films which can be watched by the whole family, so we are now separating the content according to age restrictions with some focusing on education or documentary content for children. I wondered how the future generation would react to this new media, so I tried to bring some educational content for them to experience.
Q: Is all of this content 360 films or also interactive animation in VR experiences as well?
A: There are many types of content being developed this year, but our main focus this year was on the VR theatre. This is because this year many VR theatres will be opening, so I wanted to put an emphasis on the VR theatre. I did however still invite some interactive content here.
Q: A lot of festivals that have a VR section, also have awards. Like ‘best interactive experience’, is this something you’re looking into as well?
A: We aren’t considering adding a competition, because in Korea VR is focused on gaming and not cinema. So we think we need some infrastructure and people should be introduced to VR cinema more before we can introduce competition. We also hope that filmmakers will be inspired by the VR cinema here, and then they can make their own VR films. Overall I think the infrastructure should be made first and more people should get used to VR cinema before we can introduce any competitions. So we are waiting for the producers and creators in Korea to become more active and make VR content before we start competitions.
Q: We go to a lot of festivals and see a lot of films. Are there criteria that have to be met in order to be shown or accepted?
A: There are no clear criteria, I just go around the world for one year and if I see a film which is inspiring in my personal opinion, then I choose it. It’s a rather personal process right now because there is no competition so there can’t be strict or clear criteria for the curation.
Q: With foreign films coming in, is language a big problem or barrier when it comes to watching films and experiences?
A: Yes language can be a barrier because we don’t add subtitles to the VR films. We think VR is different from 2D cinema so if we put subtitles it can break the concentration and ruin the media’s essence in terms of VR. So since we think it’s different from conventional cinema we still have to think of a way to break the language barrier.
Q: Are there anymore extravagant plans for next year?
A: This year we focus on people’s experience of this area. So we focused on how people can actually experience the space. This year we weren’t one hundred percent successful. So next year we will focus on the experience itself regarding the space and place. We think people shouldn’t just wear a VR headset, but also experience the whole thing when they step into the VR village itself. So for example this year was very hot, so we’re thinking of creating a huge plastic igloo where it’s very cool inside and adding a machine to make artificial snow inside so when people step into it they feel like winter and are experiencing the space.
Unlike traditional films we think VR is not very suitable for building stories or characters, but is more useful to build a different space and time. That’s why we’re focusing more on the building of the space and let them experience space rather than focusing on the stories.
Q: For next year it’s going to be in the same space with an igloo? Or are you guys going to move the VR village somewhere else?
A: So we’re still in the planning stages of this, and have to speak to the administration to solve problems like funding. It’s not confirmed yet.
Q: Is there a website that people can go to in order to find out more about the VR village and the film festival?
A: So we do have a website, and because there are restrictions for some people who cannot make it to the film festival in person we are actually planning a roadshow to different cities in Korea to show VR. If it’s confirmed it will all be on the website.
Q: If there’s a filmmaker out there who wants to enter their film and send it to you, how do they contact you?
A: Early next year there will be an option on the website for submissions, there is no personal way to contact myself.
To find out more about VR films keep reading VRFocus.