October 24, 2009
  Robert Bassett

Earlier this month, a group of 17 foreigners roamed around the theater district in Busan during the 14th Pusan International Film Festival.

They weren’t film fans from China or other nearby countries in Asia. Rather, this group consisted of students studying Korean film in classes – and their professors – at Chapman University in Orange County, California.

PIFF already has a reputation for bringing in hordes of actors and actresses from all over the world. But the number of international students and professors visiting the festival this year was unprecedented.

So why travel all the way across the world to watch a few movies? The JoongAng Ilbo met with Robert Bassett, dean of the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University, on Oct. 11 in the Haeundae District, Busan to find out why.

Q. What was the impetus behind this trip to Busan?

A. Our school pursues internationalization. We have a branch school in Singapore as well. As for me, I visited Korea a couple of times, but this is my first time in Busan. Half of the students we have taking Korean film classes flew here for this trip. A group of students going abroad like this has never happened at our school (students each paid $800 and received another $500 from the school on the agreement that they would watch at least five Korean films and write reports about them).

Does your university have any ties with Korea?

We set up a sisterhood relationship with the Seoul Institute of the Arts two years ago, and every summer around 10 students from each college take part in our exchange programs. We also signed an agreement with the Im Kwon-taek College of Film and Performing Arts at Dongseo University in Busan for academic exchange.

What’s Chapman University like?

The University was founded in 1861 and established film-related courses in the 1970s and 1980s. The school has 100 professors and around 5,000 students. Among them, 1,300 students study film, which tops any other university in America. I have been the dean of the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts since 1996, when we became an independent college.

What are some of the characteristics of your college?

Production is the core value of our school. We have procured veteran professors who currently work in the film industry, including in Hollywood. Our professor ranks include David Ward, a film director who won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay with “The Sting,” and the director of “Saturday Night Fever,” John Badham. Right after they start, students are sent off to shoot a film with a camera.

Does your school have an interest in Asian cinema?

While I studied philosophy and literature in college, I was infatuated with European films. At that time, European films were like literature to me. People experience catharsis while listening to a story and have the desire to experience that catharsis through literature. While viewing a series of Korean movies recently, I felt a similar emotion. Maybe it’s the new viewpoint or the new self-examination of “humanities” that is hard to see in American films. America has grown extremely attentive to Asian films, especially Korean.

What plans do you have with the PIFF?

I want to screen Korean films that were played at the festival at our school – not on DVD but on actual film. There are countless Koreans residing in Los Angeles, and I believe this would draw quite a bit of attention.

By Jung Hyung-mo [jbiz91@joongang.co.kr]

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