Kim Yang-hee’s The Poet’s Love takes Feature Film Pitching Grand Prize in JIFF’s projects market, while Dongju; The Portrait Of A Poet is among the sold-out screenings at the festival (April 28-May 7).

With the 17th Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF) in full swing, the Jeonju Project Market (JPM) has awarded its Feature Film Pitching Grand Prize to Kim Yang-hee’s The Poet’s Love.

The film about a struggling, married poet on Jeju Island who falls in love with a neighborhood boy also picked up the Audience Award, voted on by accredited industry members who attend the pitches.

In a serendipitous coup, the Documentary Pitching Grand Prize went to Kim Yang-hee’s husband Kim Hee-chul for his project on artist Lee Jung Seob – The Painter’s View. The documentary follows the painter who famously worked on the silver wrapping paper found in cigarette packs, a wandering refugee in the Korean War, whose works later were exhibited around the world including in New York’s MoMA.

The Feature Pitching Grand Prize comes with $8,780 (KW10m) in production support, a 50% discount on equipment and studio facilities, in-kind support for post-production and English subtitling equal to a total of $13,180 (KW15m) and a chance to screen at JIFF. The Documentary Pitching Grand Prize comes with the same excluding the 50% discount. (See below for more awards).

Dongju among sold-out screenings

Running April 28-May 7, JIFF on its fourth day had broken records with 106 sold-out screenings. The last highest record was 104 sold-out screenings in 2014.

Most notably, Lee Joon-ik’s Dongju; The Portrait Of A Poet, which has already been released theatrically and on IPTV, sold out all 2,000 seats for its outdoor screening on Saturday.

Other sold-out titles included Jeonju Cinema Project films The Decent and A Stray Goat, opening film Born To Be Blue, controversial buzz title Spy Nation, Indian gay romance Loev and human rights omnibus If You Were Me, as well as the Korea Competition for Shorts 1 compilation.

Festival director Lee Choong-jik said: “So far everything is going to plan and we are cautiously happy. Audiences seem to be content with the programming, selling out a record number of screenings.

“I was talking with the International Competition directors earlier and they were telling me how they’ve been having the best Q&As here. They talk for 30-40 minutes with the audiences and the questions are spot on, insightful and show a level of understanding they haven’t seen elsewhere, so the filmmakers are excited and happy.”

Political overtones

Denoting a decidedly political tone in the fest this year, Dear Grandma producer Ahn Bo-young (see below for awards) took to the JPM stage and, instead of making an acceptance speech, made an appeal for donations to the beleaguered independent film specialist cinema Indiespace.

“It’s good to see the Jeonju Digital Independent Cinema complex is still standing strong. But in Seoul, the Indiespace is running without government funding because they screen so-called ‘dangerous’ films,” she said, directing attendees to crowd-funding leaflets in the hall.

JPM also held forums on whether arthouse cinemas have a future in Korea and examining the country’s cultural development policies through the problems of independent film specialist cinemas, which have in recent years been restricted; some say because of censorship through government funding.

Festival organising committee chairman and Jeonju mayor Kim Seung-soo opened the festival on April 28 making a point of emphasising the importance of “freedom of expression.” He has previously been critical about Busan’s mayor Suh Byung-soo and the on-going battle plaguing the Busan International Film Festival.

At today’s JPM awards ceremony he said: “Jeonju has always strived for the ‘alternative’ and the ‘independent’. It can always be frightening when we choose the independent over the mainstream and commercial, but we have come this far and plan to keep on the way we have for 17 years, thankful for your support and courage.”

Director Park Jung-bum (Alive) and others were also on the JIFF Cinema Street today, getting signatures and messages to send to Busan City Hall in protest over BIFF’s treatment.

Other JPM Awards:

Also for features, the TV5Monde prize of KW5m ($4,390) went to The Snob, about an artist embroiled in a plagiarism scandal as well as a torrid affair, directed by Shin Aga (Jesus Hospital).

The Excellence Award with KW15m ($13,180) of in-kind post-production support went to A Duck’s Grin, directed by Kim Young-nam (The Boat, Don’t Look Back).

In the Documentary Pitching section, Cho Eunsung’s The Birth Of Espionage, examining the 1975 framing of Korean-Japanese students as spies, picked up the TV5MONDE prize and Audience Award. Kwon Woojung’s My Daughter’s Tiptoeing, about her family’s fears for her daughter developing cerebral palsy, picked up the Excellence Award.

In the Rising Cinema Showcase for Korean films without a distributor, Lim Jungha’s Le Tour, The Memories Of A Forgotten Dream picked up the Distribution Support Award, while Lee Sohyun’s Dear Grandma took both the KB Kookmin Card Prize and the Audience Award.