The Jeonju International Film Festival 2012 – A Preview

If you thought Jeonju was famous solely for it’s delicious cuisine, exciting music scene, historical buildings and culture, you’d be wrong.  While all of the above do make Jeonju a great place to live, the highlight for me comes every spring as the city becomes awash with luminous yellow “JIFF volunteer” jackets as the Jeonju International Film Festival comes to town.  Now entering it’s 13th year, the Jeonju International Film festival will be held along the Cinema Street located in Jeonju’s downtown area, as well as other parts of the city including it’s vibrant nightlife district beside Jeonbuk Univeristy.

While it might not have the worldwide acclaim of a Cannes or Sundance Film Festival, it has been rightly regarded as one of the most important film festivals in Asia. Festival Scope highlights its importance on the Asian festival circuit as it introduces “independent and experimental films from around the world to audiences”.  Whereas One One Four praises it’s “focus on film aesthetics over commerce”.

With several categories in competition, the talent pool is high.  The main prize, The Woosuk award, goes to the winner of the International film competition, where 12 directors are chosen to take part and invariably go onto to big things.  Past winners include Nobuhiro Suwa for his film Mother and Canada’s Dennis Cotes for his film Drifting States.  There are also awards for best Korean Feature Film, Best Korean Short as well as the Asian Feature Film competition.

Demonstrating the festivals dedication to independent cinema, is the Jeonju Digital Project.  Each year, JIFF distributes around 50,000,000 won to three filmmakers who each make a short film over 30 minutes in length.  Those films will then have their premieres at the festival and be distributed as one film in Korea and throughout the world by JIFF.  This years choices for the Jeonju Digital Project 2012 are Raya Martin of the Philippines, Vimukthi Jayasundara of Sri Lanka and Ying Liang from China.  You realise the scale of the project when award-winning filmmakers such as Ying Liang declare they are “a bit surprised to be part of the project, since masters such as Antonioni and Soderbergh were once the participants”.

However, It is often the movies and events that are not in competition that generate a great deal of buzz at the festival.  The ‘Focus on’ section allows the audience to become familiar with a prominent figure in World Cinema such as Pedro Costa, Bela Tarr and the great Pier Paolo Pasolini.  This years ‘Focus on’ is showing the works of one of the less well known “masters of Japanese cinema” in the West, Tomu Uchida.  A real treat considering his films are hardly ever shown and are not widely available on DVD.

There is also a healthy selection of animated and short films, but my personal favourite categories are the ‘Stranger than Cinema’
and ‘Cinemafest’ sections. Stranger than Cinema focuses on the “contemporary avant-garde cineastes standing on the frontline of aesthetic experiments”.  First launched in 2004, the section has seen a passionate following showing the works of Peter Kubelka, Peter Tscherkassky, Artavazd, and Peleshian to name a few.  Not to mention last years festival saw a return from living legend Jean-Luc Goddard.

For me though, the highlight of the whole festival is the Cinemafest.  This section comprises of midnight screenings on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday showing three films that run into the early hours of the morning.  Whether it be a triple header showcasing the best of Blaxpoitation, Music Documentary or the films of John Walters, these nights always sell out, and the hottest ticket every year is the horror trilogy.   From vampires to cannibals, from clowns to zombies, there’s a load of fun to be had watching Korean and foreign audiences jump out of their skins.  It’s even better comparing the zombies on screen to the zombies in the aisles at 6am as students wander, aimlessly homing in on free milk and snacks like zombies mindlessly hunting down the smell of human flesh.  After 6 hours plus in a theater, the resemblance is staggering. If you can manage to stay up all the way through, it’s a great night.

Not content with a wide array of films from all over the globe costing a mere 5,000 won per ticket, for an extra 5,000 won JIFF puts on events such as ‘Cine Talk’, in which filmmakers stay behind after their screenings and talk with the audience about the process of making their film.  Or if you want to take your understanding of the filmmaking process one step further, you can participate in JIFF’s ‘Master class’ seminars which are dedicated to a specific field of filmmaking.  For example directors in 2003 and 2010, cinematographers in 2004, and music directors in 2005, actors in 2006, production designers in 2007, screenwriters in 2008 and film critics in 2009.  Taking place over 3 days, JIFF describes the event as a “rare opportunity to meet legendary masters sharing their knowledge to cinephiles and students”.

If cash is a problem or you simply want to go for the atmosphere.  JIFF provides free outdoor screenings and concerts over the long weekend.  ‘No Brain’ and ‘Crying Nut’ are two popular Korean rock bands that have performed in recent years, and there are also buskers and art exhibitions placed around the festival.

The 13th Jeonju International Film Festival will run from April 26th to May 5th 2012 with the full festival line-up due to be announced on April 2nd.  With a whole host of diverse films and seminars lined up, as well as free screenings and other events, the 13th Jeonju International Film Festival really will be a great event for everyone that attends.  Besides, even if you don’t like films you can always eat the Bibimbap!

(Directions: After taking a Bus or Train to jeonju, to get to the main area of the festival or to buy tickets, tell a taxi driver “Geksa Megabox (Me-ga bak-sa)” then follow the yellow jackets.)


(First published in April’s issue of Groove Korea Magazine.  Photos courtesy of the Jeonju International Film Festival)

Categories: Festivals, Previews


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