Festival to open with Berlin Golden Bear winner.

jeonju international film festival

Korea’s second largest film festival, the 18th Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF), which focuses on independent and arthouse cinema, is set to open April 27 with Berlinale Golden Bear winner On Body And Soul, directed by Ildiko Enyedi.

The Hungarian director is also set to be on the International Competition jury and hold masterclasses at the fest.

JIFF today announced its line-up of 229 films from 58 countries with 50 world premieres and three international premieres, putting an emphasis on its slogan “Outlet for Cinematic Expression.”

“We have always had the identity of a festival for independent and alternative films, but as you all know, the past year has revealed problems such as the [government] blacklist and various forms of censorship that have not been solved, which is why we have put forth this slogan,” said festival director Lee Choong-jik.

Supporting Korean independents

Executive programmer Kim Young-jin noted a recent slump in Korean independent films saying, “For the past few years, government policies have not been friendly to independent cinema in gaze or in support.”

He added that the trends in independent Korean films these days seems to be either to focus on “microscopic” personal expression or to try to be “miniature commercial films”, but that these trends are probably part of a “transition” period.

Compared to fiction films, Korean documentaries seem to start with very personal issues that move on to examine society in a broader context, producing topical and controversial works.

This includes JIFF’s world premiere of Korean documentary Blue Butterfly Effect, directed by Emmanuel Moonchil Park, dealing with the protests led by young mothers in Seongju county where the US anti-ballistic missile defense system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), has been deployed.

To support Korean independent films, JIFF this year decided to make all three of its annual Jeonju Cinema Project (JCP) productions Korean instead of from the usual melange of countries. All three are world premieres as follows.

- The Poet And The Boy, previously known as Poet’s Love when it won the Feature Film Pitching Grand Prize at last year’s Jeonju Project Market (JPM), is directed by Kim Yang-hee starring director/actor Yang Ik-june (Breathless) as a 40-year-old, married poet in a creative rut who suddenly develops feelings for a teenage boy in the neighborhood.

- Project N, directed by JIFF regular Lee Chang-jae (On The Road, The Hospice), a documentary about how South Korean president Kim Dae-jung’s administration attempts a political revolution by putting the presidential nomination to a plebiscite, bringing about a surprising result. The director says he ordered driving music reminiscent of Mad Max to keep up the pace of the film.

- The First Lap, directed by Kim Dae-hwan, whose first feature End Of Winter debuted at Busan and went on to Berlin. The film is about a young couple who has been living together for six years but are forced to take a road trip to visit their parents in two different cities after the possibility of a pregnancy becomes apparent.

Programmer Jang Byungwon says JIFF hopes to make the “flow from JPM to JCP a regular one.”

Other previous JPM films in the selection this year include the documentary on Lee Jung Seob, The Painter’s View, directed by Kim Hee-chul (husband of Kim Yang-hee), which won the Documentary Pitching Grand Prize last year, and 2012 JPM selection Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno, directed by Jung Yoonsuk, in the International Competition for first and second-time feature directors.

New awards

The fest this year has two new awards for Korean films, both with cash prizes of KW10m ($9,010): the Union Award, sponsored by Union Investment Partners, for a debuting feature director in the Korean Competition and the Daemyung Culture Wave Award, sponsored by Daemyung Culture Factory, for the best Korean feature in the fest regardless of section, excluding films released in theatres.

The fest is also launching the Jeonju Cinema Fund this year, to be awarded to seven films in the Jeonju Project Market. Sponsored by JIFF, film investor 51K and actor So Ji-sub, the JCF will give KW10m ($9.010) to each winning project as a development grant.

China tensions

Asked about the number of Chinese films in the line-up, programmers noted the fest has only three Chinese films this year while another two cancelled due to tensions between China and South Korea over the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD).

Two of the Chinese films at JIFF this year are in the Expanded Cinema section - Li Hongqi’s documentary Hooly Bible II, which world-premiered at the Singapore film festival late last year, and Rong Guang Rong’s documentary Children Are Not Afraid of Death, Children Are Afraid Of Ghosts, which world-premiered in Rotterdam this year.

The third Chinese movie is Zhu Shengze’s documentary on migrant workers, Another Year, in the Frontline section, launched this year to showcase “daring” films with controversial topics.

Other films in the new Frontline section include Matthew Heineman’s Sundance title City Of Ghosts, dealing with citizen journalists in the ISIS-ravaged city of Raqqa, and Alain Gomis’ Berlinale competitor Felicite, about a struggling single mother in Kinshasa.

Special focuses  

The festival is holding a special focus on screenwriter Song Gil-han, who worked most prominently in the 1980s with director Im Kwon-taek on films such as Jagko (a.k.a. Mismatched Nose), Mandara and Ticket as well as others such as Lee Jangho with whom he made Myong-ja Akiko Sonia.

The showcase will also feature the world premiere of a partially restored version of Im Kwon-taek’s Bhiksuni, which went into production in 1984 and almost became the legendary Taehung Pictures’ debut feature - until it was shut down due to opposition from Buddhists. The story is about a woman who becomes a Buddhist nun seeking salvation. It will be accompanied by a documentary with interviews of the people involved with the film and its shutdown at the time.

Other retrospectives include ones on British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom (The Road To Guantanamo, The Trip), Soviet era auteur Aleksay German (Trial On The Road, Twenty Days Without War) and modern Italian cinema.

The festival’s Closing Film will be Survival Family, directed by Yaguchi Shinobu (Waterboys, Swing Girls). The Japanese film follows a family as they trek out of Tokyo after a major blackout, headed for the father’s hometown on bicycles.

JIFF will run April 27 to May 6 - spanning holidays such as May Day, Buddha’s Birthday (May 3), and Children’s Day (May 5).