By Claire Lee
Screenings of a documentary film which challenges Seoul’s claim that North Korea is responsible for the 2010 sinking of the warship Cheonan have been abruptly suspended by multiplex chain Megabox, only two days after the film hit theaters on Sept. 5.
The theater chain, a subsidiary of major local daily JoongAng Ilbo, was the only multiplex that agreed to screen the controversial film. The documentary was released in a total of 35 theaters nationwide, 26 being Megabox theaters.
The documentary topped the local diversity film chart ― a chart for indie and arthouse films ― on the day of its release. As of Sunday, it drew a total of 5,070 viewers.
According to the film’s producer and distributor Aura Pictures, Megabox decided to suspend the showings of “Project Cheonan Ship” as it received threats from an unknown conservative group for screening the movie and became concerned about the audience’s safety.
|Director Baek Seung-woo (second from left) speaks during a press conference on the multiplex chain Megabox’s suspension of his documentary “Project Cheonan Ship.” (Yonhap News)|
“This is an event that we should be ashamed of,” said Lee Choon-yeon, the director of Korean Association of Film Art and Industry (KAFAI) said during a press conference on Monday.
“We should be ashamed of what happened to this movie not just as cineastes, but as (a citizen of) a democratic nation.”
Representatives from 12 organizations consisting of local cineastes ― including KAFAI, Directors Guild of Korea, Korean Film Producers Association, Cinematographers Guild of Korea, Korean Film Marketers Association, and The Korean Association of Film Critics ― spoke at the press conference held in Seoul, calling for Megabox to resume the screening of the film and authorities to investigate of the conservative group which allegedly made the threats.
“I am afraid that what just happened to ‘Project Cheonan Ship’ will affect filmmakers in this country,” said filmmaker Lee Jun-ik, who currently serves as the head of Directors Guild of Korea.
“This incident could make filmmakers censor themselves before creating their works, especially regarding certain subject matters. What just happened is a serious threat to our culture industry.”
The documentary, directed by independent filmmaker Baek Seung-woo and produced by veteran director Chung Ji-young, had created much buzz for its politically sensitive subject matter even before its release.
Last month, a group of Navy officers and families of the Cheonan victims filed an injunction with the court to ban the film’s release, claiming it includes defamatory content against the fallen soldiers.
Just a day before the movie’s release, the Uijeongbu District Court rejected the injunction call, allowing the documentary to be screened as scheduled on Sept. 5. The movie received a “G” rating from the state-run Korea Media Rating Board, which means it can be seen by anyone who is 12 years of age or older.
The country’s two other multiplex chains ― CGV and Lotte Cinema ― are said to have turned down Aura Pictures when it contacted them over showings of the documentary.