MovieBloc and the Strange New World of Crypto-Films

Will Blockchain bring a new audience to global short films, or is it just a trend?

Blockchain is the practice of secure data maintenance in financial transactions, particularly as relates to cryptocurrency. It’s everyone’s favorite hip, trendy word that describes a process that doesn’t sound hip or trendy at all. And now, blockchain has come to the world of movies. The South Korean website MovieBloc brings international film festivals (or at least the South Korean ones) to any worldwide location. And it actually does bring the true film festival experience, or at least the one I’ve written about, which is mainly the short films. Because short films have notoriously bad distribution, film festivals are about the only place you can really see them, despite short films being an art form unto themselves.

Moviebloc

But that’s a bit of a chicken-and-an-egg problem. Are short films unpopular due to being poorly distributed, or are they poorly distributed because they’re unpopular? The sheer economics of short films make them tough to watch. Compared to a full movie, what do you pay, a dollar? MovieBloc charges about that much, though a surprisingly large number of movies on the service are free. My favorite so far is Without You, a tender, emotional piece in the romance section about a teenage boy struggling with a break-up under ominous circumstances strongly implied, but never outright stated to be, tragic.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

Without You, alongside many other free films, offers a strong hint as to why MovieBloc really exists. High school students who attend art academies created it. While that may not sound like a ringing endorsement, a deliberate cultivation of talent and skill at the teenage level has long been one of my favorite aspects of the South Korean film industry. It doesn’t involve celebrities, or, until now, movies anyone could actually watch. An actual appreciation of basic craft among the next generation is genuinely heartwarming to my crotchety film critic heart, which feels increasingly unsettled by TikTok and Minecraft videos seeming to be the only known means of expression among kids these days.

Which isn’t to say that MovieBloc consists entirely of South Korean high-school projects. More traditional film festival movies from all over the world have also found a home on the platform, which lacks region restrictions. These movies are weird, gimmicky, and not necessarily very good. One More Time is an American joint about a neverending party that’s very unsubtly budget-limited, while The Corn Festival is another not particularly funny comedy set in Mexico where a reporter investigates rumors of a secret forbidden technique for growing high-quality corn. Of course, that’s just another part of the festival experience–never knowing for sure whether the next short film in the lineup will even be watchable, or an unexpected masterpiece.

It’s a level of farce that’s become increasingly rare in an era where algorithms nudge our recommendations every which way, and discourage us from trying new things. And as far as MovieBloc goes, that farce is quite brand-appropriate, given the palpable absurdity of this entire enterprise. Why is blockchain supposed to be a selling point for independent film? Well, the uncomfortable reality is, because it sounds cool to investors, film festivals, and the South Korean government. Whether it sounds cool to filmmakers is almost entirely irrelevant. The part of this that’s music to their ears is just having a platform to distribute their movies at all.

In an interview with the Korean Film Council, CEO Kang Yeonkyung noted that, contrary to what you might expect, most filmmakers don’t even want money. They’re happy to just let people watch their work for free, because they want an audience. Blockchain is, in theory, useful mainly as a security measure. Yet independent filmmakers quite literally struggle to even give their films away.

Security isn’t really necessary for low-interest films like this. But the abstract concept of blockchain security is enough to satisfy any random person with an arcane financial stake in any given film that you can track the money, and easily settle potential lawsuits, even across international lines. The premise of the entire situation is outrageous, and would feel right at home in an offbeat festival short film. The idea that anyone would even want to pay for a short movie in cryptocurrency is farcical to me. PayPal, which MovieBloc also accepts, is a far more logical choice for these kinds of microtransactions.

And for a South Korean service, a surprisingly large number of the titles are either in English or have English subtitles. It’s hard to know how far MovieBloc will actually get on the strength of this gimmick. Still, whatever the technical nuances of MovieBloc may be, it’s nice to be able to watch short films at all.

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William Schwartz

William Schwartz is a reporter and film critic based in Seoul, South Korea. He writes primarily for HanCinema, the world's largest and most popular English language database for South Korean television dramas and films.

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