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Alternative films get limelight at Jeonju film fest

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Updated : April 20 2017

The Jeonju International Film Festival, Korea’s second-largest film event, is set to host its 18th edition this year from April 27 to May 7.
Following is what to look out for during the festival, which will screen 229 films from 58 countries.

Opening, closing films

Hungarian director Ildiko Enyedi’s “On Body and Soul” will open JIFF on Thursday evening. The film follows a cautious woman bored with life who meets a man, falls in love, shares his dreams and becomes curious about deeper human connections.

Closing the festival will be Japanese director Yaguchi Shinobu’s “Survival Family,” a satire that presents the chaos of a family in Tokyo as the city becomes shrouded in a sudden blackout. “It satirizes the absurdity of urban civilization,” according to JIFF, depicting how all functions shut down in the face of a technological crisis.

A scene from Kim Jee-hye’s “Hologram Universe,” which is competing in the Korean competition at the JIFF (JIFF)
Microscopic, individualized perspective

Three Korean films -- Lee Chang-jae’s “Project N,” Kim Dae-hwan’s “The First Lap” and Kim Yang-hee’s “The Poet and the Boy” -- have been selected to screen in the Jeonju Cinema Project category, which funds the production and distribution of indie films.

“Korean indie cinema seems to be becoming more microscopic and softened,” programmer Kim Young-jin said. “I think it is because of (the past) government’s antipathy toward indie films and disadvantages in funding.”

Kim added that recent Korean indie cinema seems to be “a smaller version of commercial cinema.”

Meanwhile, Kim noted that documentaries are focusing on the “social implications of even personal issues.”

In the Korean competition category, most of the 128 films submitted featured “dramatically microscopic views” compared to previous years, JIFF said. “It is hard to define whether this is a trend for a significant period of time, a desire for change, a tamed tendency reflecting the frustrated social climate, or evidence of the diversity of creators’ individualized gaze.”

Eleven films are competing in the section, including Hwang Kyu-il’s “Saem,” the story of a man searching for his first love, and Lee Wan-soo’s “Nomad,” which looks at the lives of young people.

A scene from Luxembourg director Laura Schroeder’s “Barrage,” which is competing in the international competition at the JIFF (JIFF)

The JIFF has created a new category called Frontline, which spotlights films featuring uncanny imagination, controversial issues, innovative style or bold expression. JIFF programmer Jang Byung-won referred to it as “a haven of cinematic expression.”

Eleven feature films will be screened, including “Felicite,” which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin International Festival, and “City of Ghosts,” a US documentary by Matthew Heineman about underground journalists who protest against the Islamic State group dominating Syria.

Backlash from icy Korea-China relations

Director Rong Guangrong of “Children are Not Afraid of Death, Children are Afraid of Ghosts,” screening in the expanded cinema category, is one of several Chinese directors who have refused to attend the event due to strained relations between Korea and China.

“The atmosphere between Korea and China is unusual these days,” Rong was quoted as saying to the JIFF.

Director Zhu Shengze of “Another Year” and Jia Zhangke of “The Hedonists” have also rejected invitations.

JIFF is currently in talks with director Li Hongqui of “Hooly Bible II.”

Director Zhu Yuancheng of “The Song of Cotton” had originally agreed to meet with the audience during the film fest, but backed out, resulting in JIFF’s decision not to screen the film.

“It’s been very difficult this year to invite Chinese films,” said a JIFF official. “We’re afraid the aftermath of deploying THAAD (the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) on the Korean Peninsula is impacting the arts and culture fields as well.”

By Rumy Doo (

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