Jeonju International Film Festival, South Korea’s second biggest festival, celebrated its 10th anniversary edition with a record-breaking attendance and the launch of a new market.

Closing its nine-day run on the weekend, the festival handed the top Woosuk Award to Sherad Anthony Sanchez’s Imburnal, which also picked up the NETPAC Award for the promotion of Asian Cinema.

The International Competition Jury made up of Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Kim Dong-won, Adrian Martin, Richard Porton, and Yanaginach Mitsuo said they awarded the film the $10,000 (SKW 12.3m) Woosuk Award because it “fulfills the progressive spirit of the Jeonju International Film Festival: it is an innovative, experimental, even miraculous work, a unique blend of documentary and fiction, which returns us to the fundamental question of the past and the future: what is cinema?”

Algerian director Tariq Teguia’s Inland took the Daum Special Jury Prize which comes with a $5,600 (SKW 7m) prize for the best feature in this year’s 13-film international competition.

Lee Seo’s Missing Person won the JJ-Star award for best film in the Korean feature competition, while Sim Sang-kook’s Where is Ronny and Min Hwan-ki’s Sogyumo Acacia Band’s Story got special mentions.

Shin Dong-il’s Bandhobi, dealing with migrant workers in Korea, won the audience award and the CJ CGV Korean film distribution support award, which includes two weeks of exhibition and marketing support from the leading cinema chain.

Record Attendance

This year’s festival saw 200 films screened from 42 countries and a record paid attendance of 70,762, up by 5,500 on last year, along with a record 77.6% seat occupancy rate.

The number of guests was up to 2,061 from last year’s 1,836 although the lack of adequate accommodation in the small city is becoming a noted issue.

Most guests agreed the programming was innovative and high in quality, with the focus on new technology and discovery of both new and old films – in retrospectives such as the ones on Jerzy Skolimowski and remastered Korean films.

They also especially noted the enthusiasm and savvy of the local audiences, who travelled from around the country to take part on masterclasses and forums.

Sanchez, winner of the Woosuk and NETPAC awards, said: “The Jeonju audiences throw you some of the best Q&A questions. I’ve been to many festivals but this is something special here.”

International jury member Adrian Martin said: “I have never in the world sat with such audiences who are so respectful and so appreciative of even the most difficult and challenging films. They are the best audience in the world. If I were to make a suggestion, I would like the international competition to go even further towards more innovative and more challenging films since, as programmer Jung Soo-wan explained to me, the audiences here have grown up with the festival so I think they can take anything.”

Roger Gonin, head of the Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival and member of the shorts jury, said, “Coming from a festival myself, I am so impressed by the quality of the organisation, the projections, the volunteers, the humanity and the enthusiasm of the audience which makes this festival unique.”

The festival’s trademark Jeonju Digital Project omnibus screened to favorable reviews, with most noting Hong Sang-soo’s short as typical of the director but even more humorous, Naomi Kawase’s interesting and touching, while the power-punch of the omnibus lay in Filipino director Lav Diaz’s Butterflies Have No Memories which originally came in at 59 minutes but was cut to 40 minutes to fit the format.

Diaz’s eight-hour digital film Melancholia having screened in full at JIFF this year, organisers have promised to put his 59-minute director’s cut of Butterflies in next year’s DVD release.

JIFF this year released a 10th anniversary commemorative DVD of all the former Jeonju Digital Project omnibus films, some of which have travelled to festivals such as Locarno.

New market launch

With renewed interest in independent and low-budget filmmaking, due to the downturn in investment and the recent success of low-budget hits such as the cow documentary Old Partner, the inaugural Jeonju Projects Market (JPM) saw 80 companies and 250 participants attend its project pitching sessions and industry screenings over seven days.

Organisers said negotiations have started with three to four local distributors on films such as Tokyo Rendezvous,School Days With a Pig, and Mia and The Migou.

The Work In Progress section which saw five directors showing footage of their unfinished works was deemed a small success for its innovative discoveries.

The $4,000 (SKW5m) award for best foreign project went to Stefano Odoardi’s Mancanza, an experimental film about the afterlife.

“Because of the current political situation in Italy, it’s almost impossible to get funding or distribution for an experimental film like this one. This prize money will make it possible for me to complete the film,” said Odoardi. His previous film A White Ballad, awarded in Jeonju and Rotterdam, was distributed independently in Italy and in the Netherlands through The Filmmuseum.

The award for local project (with the same cash prize) went to Ahn Kearn-hyung’s documentary Out Of The Cave,which mixes his interactions with neighborhood stray cats with political and social issues of the day. Ahn also was in need of finishing funds.

However, the market’s Producers Pitching and Documentary Pitching sessions were focused on the local industry, with no translation for foreign guests.

Lorna Tee, general manager at Irresistible Films and a member of the NETPAC jury noted, “It’s a very busy time in my pre-Cannes schedule, but I’ve always wanted to come to Jeonju. I was also hoping to get to participate in the new projects market here, but was disappointed to see there isn’t much English translation for the events.”