2019 marked the 20th anniversary of the Jeonju film festival, which celebrated with its largest program to date, with an emphasis on both the history of Korean cinema as well as the legacy of the festival itself. The result was a nostalgia for the past combined with an awareness of where the future lies. Originally a much smaller festival with a concentration on cinephilia and more experimental and politically radical work, Jeonju’s changes are reflective of the movement towards greater mainstream popularity within the Korean film industry over these past two decades. Recent years have seen Jeonju move more towards carving a space at the margins of this expanding domestic popular cinema, with its Korean Competition section and Jeonju Cinema Projects producing films that find a small audience with the local arthouse scene. This year saw this emphasis continue, but with a larger look backwards to the festival roots, making this perhaps the strongest in the festival’s history, with an effective melding of the more esoteric past with the more commercial future.

The Jeonju Cinema Projects are a perfect illustration of this movement, beginning as the Jeonju Digital Project back in 2000, in which three directors were chosen each year to produce a digital short that was then combined into an omnibus feature (the festival also included a “Digital Spectrum” section devoted to digital works that was eventually eliminated in 2007, presumably because so much indie cinema had shifted to digital to make the distinction unnecessary). The filmmakers included many well-known auteurs, including Koreans like Bong Joon-ho and Hong Sang-soo, as well as an impressive list of international names, such as Jia Zhang-ke, Tsai Ming-liang, Harun Farocki, Pedro Costa, Claire Denis, and James Benning, amongst others. But despite these art cinema stars, the project remained fairly marginal, failing to gain wide distribution and often considered incidental entries in the respective director’s oeuvres. In 2014, the festival shifted to feature-length films that could more easily enter the marketplace, especially the domestic arthouse space that has been opened up by the increasing success of the Korean industry as a whole. This year’s projects included three from Korea and one from France: Kim Jong-kwan’s A-mu-do Eop-meun Got (Shades of the Heart); Ko Hee-young’s Bul-sum (The Breathing of the Fire); Jeon Jee-hee’s Guk-do-geuk-jang (Somewhere in Between); and Damien Manivel’s Isadora’s Children. None of these directors have achieved anywhere near the international acclaim of the auteurs of the earliest days of the project, but the Korean projects in particular have a strong chance to gain a domestic audience and also give these talented younger filmmakers the chance to break into both the Korean and international markets.

Kim Jong-kwan is the best known of this year’s group, having made three critically acclaimed features previously: Jo-geum-man Deo Ga-kka-i (Come, Closer), which debuted at Busan in 2010; Choe-ag-ui Ha-lu (Worst Woman), which premiered at Jeonju in 2016 and went on to play in competition at the Moscow International Film Festival as well as the Korean festivals in Australia, Toronto and Florence; and The Table, which opened at Busan in 2016 before going on to a moderately successful theatrical run in 2017, grossing nearly $700,000.1 Kim is in some ways the quintessential Jeonju Cinema Project director in that he merges the past and present of the format. All of his works to date are structured similarly to the omnibus, most obviously with both Come, Closer and The Table, which are essentially collections of short films with the unifying theme of relationships. Shades of the Heart, like Worst Woman, feels somewhat more unified in following a central character, but nevertheless is divided into short segments in which the protagonist interacts with different people whose names mark each of the chapters. And earlier this year, Kim contributed the final segment, “Walking at Night”, to the Netflix omnibus Persona, four shorts starring K-Pop idol I.U. (Lee Ji-eun), who also stars in Shades of the Heart. Kim is thus representative of the domestic arthouse auteur, not yet known internationally but gaining a reputation within Korea, and I believe Shades of the Heart is his best film to date, a masterfully shot and paced drama with real emotional depth and a mature grasp of life’s pain and beauty. It stars Yeon Woo-jin as Chang-seok and follows him through five different encounters, all of which touch on the themes of death and loss. This melancholic tone can at times feel overwhelming or even forced, but Kim is able to ground these moments in the everyday and bring out the poetry of filmed conversation in unexpected ways. It is a great Seoul movie, capturing the various spaces (cafes, small bars, narrow streets) in great detail and showing the strange mixture of the new with the obsolete (a key conversation takes place at a pay phone, which still exist despite becoming essentially unused). My favourite sequence is a long-take conversation at night between two old friends smoking Indonesian cigarettes as she describes her former Indonesian lover. The darkness of the visual field gives the crackling sound of the cigarettes extra emphasis and provides a wonderful counterpoint to the sadness of the character’s story. In this way, it stands as a perfect representative of the film as a whole.

Shades of the Heart (Kim Jong-kwan)

The best documentary I saw at the festival was one of the other Jeonju Cinema Projects, Ko Hee-young’s The Breathing of the Fire. It is Ko’s third feature, having previously won the CGV Arthouse Award (which guarantees local distribution) in the Korean Competition category at the 2016 Jeonju festival for her film Mul-sum (Breathing Underwater), a profile of the traditional female divers (who dive without tanks) of Korea’s Jeju island. As the titles indicate, The Breathing of the Fire is meant as a companion film (the Korean titles, Bul-sum and Mul-sum, make this even clearer), also detailing a Korean tradition, following an elderly potter and his apprentice daughter. Like many of the best documentaries, the film takes a potentially dull subject matter and finds stories and themes that turn that material into compelling drama. The potter is attempting to recreate the “Kizaemon” tea bowl, an everyday Korean piece that was taken to Japan after a 1592 invasion. Thus, he is clearly driven by a kind of nationalist fervour to reclaim this piece of Korean history and identity. But just as clear is his own artistic obsession with trying in vain to reproduce an object whose very flaws are part of its beauty, through a process that includes elements (fire, wind) that nobody can completely master. The scene where he and his daughter travel to Kyoto to see the original piece is both beautiful and absurd, allowing us to appreciate his reverence in seeing this scared object while revealing the fetishistic nature of such objects. And more than anything, the focus is on the father-daughter dynamic and the whole history of Korean patriarchy, a system that is slowly changing and evolving but nevertheless still a force. The potter’s presumed male heir to his art dies at a young age, leaving him with only his daughter, now in her late 40s, to carry on the tradition. The man resists this, using sexist and dubious reasoning around physical strength, but eventually the daughter does become a potter herself, with a final darkly comic scene in which she conducts her first solo bake, which her father of course cannot help but try to meddle in. With this film, Ko has now established herself as one of the finest directors currently working in the field of Korean non-fiction.

Both Kim Jong-kwan and Ko Hee-young, despite their differences, conform to the norm of directors chosen for the Jeonju Cinema Projects in having made at least one previous film that played at the Korean festivals and gained critical acclaim but have not yet moved on to great international prominence. The last of the Korean projects, Jeon Jee-hee’s Somewhere in Between, in unusual in being a feature debut. I think it is the least successful of the three, but not necessarily because of flaws in the filmmaking craft. Jeon shows a fine visual sense and gets good performances from her actors; the main problem is one of story and character. The movie revolves around Kitae (Lee Dong-hwi), who returns to his small hometown from Seoul after failing his exams. He goes to work at a local theatre and develops relationships with the theatre manager, Mr Oh (Lee Han-wie), as well as a young aspiring actress, Young-eun (Lee Sang-hee), who yearns to eventually escape to the big city. Unfortunately, Kitae is simply not an interesting enough character to revolve a movie around, especially a story that is focused on its characters. There is a real perversity in having to follow this man when the supporting female character is so much more engaging and dynamic (a disparity also seen in the energy of the performers). It is particularly odd that a female director would choose to focus her story in this manner, although the film does have some merit and shows potential moving forward.

The Korean Competition section did not always exist at Jeonju, being first introduced back in 2007 (then named “Korean Cinema on the Move”) with the goal of “introduc(ing) diverse works from Korean independent filmmakers.”2 As usual, the ten films in this year’s field represent a wide range of quality, but unfortunately without any standout effort, unlike last year’s winner Seong-hye-ui Nara (The Land of Seonghye, Jung Hyung-suk), which I thought was one of the best Korean films of the year (although still without even a domestic theatrical release). The Grand Prize (which includes a trophy and approximately $15,000 in cash) went to Heut-eo-jin Bam (Scattered Night), directed by Kim Sol and Lee Ji-hyoung and produced by Dankook University in Seoul. I suspect the jury was grading on a curve, given the film’s very low budget compared to some of the other competition films, as there is very little of distinction here. It tells a story of a family of four breaking apart due to parental separation, primarily from the perspective of the ten year-old daughter. The directors employ many long takes, but often with sloppy framing and without a purposeful visual design, haphazardly switching from sequences shot behind the protagonist’s head to scenes which consist primarily of close-ups of her reactions. In terms of story, there is no expansion into the sociological and little specificity to the locations and other physical details. As a debut feature shot on a micro-budget it is admirable but hardly worthy of the top prize. I was similarly lukewarm on the winner of the CGV Arthouse Award Prize (which includes not only a trophy and $10,000 in cash but also a guarantee of a two-week theatrical release with $20,000 in marketing budget), the documentary Itami Jun-ui Bada (The Sea of Itami Jun), directed by Jeong Da-woon. Like The Breathing of the Fire, it concerns an artist and his relationship to Korean nationalism, specifically in connection to Japan. Itami Jun’s story is indeed worthy of attention, a native Korean raised in Japan who went on to have a great career as an architect while also maintaining a strong identity as a Korean. Or, at least, that is the narrative the documentary tries to push. Because it is dealing with a deceased figure, it lacks any observational force and instead paints an extremely hagiographic portrait, with a particular emphasis on his ethnic identity and even, rather unconvincingly, on the uniquely Korean nature of his art. The result is a rather staid expository approach, somewhat redeemed by some impressive poetic moments. However, one suspects its emphasis on Korean identity could make it moderately successful at the Korean box office.

My favourite of the competition films was Jeong Seung-o’s feature debut I-jang (Move the Grave), a comedy-drama that works extremely well as both a popular entertainment and a very specific rendering of the clash between traditional and modern ideas of the Korean family. It captured the Upcoming Project Prize, with $10,000 awarded to fund director Jeong’s next film. The plot involves a fairly familiar task in contemporary Korea: having to move the grave of a buried relative due to land development. In this case, it is the remains of the father of a family of five children: the oldest Hye-young, who is divorced with a troublesome young son; Geum-ok, whose husband is having an affair; Geum-hee, who is enagaged to be married; Hye-yeon, the youngest daughter who is still in university and is an active feminist; and the only son Seung-rak, whom the others have little contact with. Because of the patriarchal views of their father’s brother, they cannot move the grave without the son, and thus the four women embark on a quest to track him down. Director Jeong tells the story efficiently and gets great performances from his actors, but the film is not particularly distinctive cinematically. Its strength is its sociological detail and character development, taking it beyond a lightly amusing comedy and into some real insight on moving beyond the burdens of the past without completely disconnecting from your roots and sense of identity. That said, it also represents how the Korean indies, much like the American indies of the 1990s, are splitting off into two camps: genuine low budget films with a real aesthetic difference from the mainstream versus mid-budget entertainments aimed at a broader audience. Move the Grave is an example of the latter, and while it is one of the better of these types of film, one can understand the hesitation in seeing the invasion of populism into this space and why the jury ultimately rewarded the lower budget, less polished work.

The other two best films within the competition show a similar divide: Jung Hyuk-ki’s feature debut Dem-peu-si-rol (Ga-je) (My Punch-Drunk Boxer), a CGV Arthouse production set to be released this summer, and Choi Chang-hwan’s second film Pa-do-reul Geot-neun So-nyeon (Wave), which won the Best Acting Prize for Kwak Min-gyu along with a Special Mention from the jury. My Punch-Drunk Boxer, like Move the Grave, is an attempt at a mainstream comedy-drama mass entertainment, and is mostly successful, thanks in large part to a very fine cast, particularly Um Tae-goo’s lead turn. The plot revolves around a former boxer with a disgraced past who tries to find redemption for himself and his former trainer. While the story is at times too conventional and overly maudlin, there is real filmmaking talent on display here, a skill with composition and space rare for younger directors. Given the popularity of comedies here, there is a decent chance the film is a success and allows Jung the ability to make more work in the future. Wave is director Choi’s second film, following last year’s Nae-ga Sa-neun Se-sang (Back to the Beat), which also played in Jeonju’s Korean Competition section and won the CGV Arthouse Award. A self-taught filmmaker and high school dropout, Choi’s second feature shows an enormous leap forward in terms of filmmaking craft. While Back to the Beat was shot in black and white with a fairly minimalist approach, Wave’s visual design is far more ambitious, with many tableaux framings and uses of bright colour that give the surfing club a memorable look that contrasts with the grim environments of the rest of the film. The lead character, a low-level thug and migrant worker trying to find connection and community through surfing, is wonderfully rendered by Kwak Min-gyu (who also starred in Back to the Beat) and, along with the strong direction, turns the conventional material into something memorable.

Pa-do-reul Geot-neun So-nyeon (Wave, Choi Chang-hwan)

The rest of the competition films, all of which were debut features, ran the spectrum from mediocre to awful. Ra Ju-hyoung’s Atlantic City was a decent effort, detailing a young Korean man living in New York on his own and trying to reconnect with his missing gambling addict father. The storytelling and filmmaking are lacking, but there is a certain freshness in seeing America from this Korean perspective. Kim Song-mi’s Da-haeng-i-ne-yo (Own Way) documents a fascinating social experiment in which a group of disaffected young people set up a collective in the Mokpo area of Seoul. The heavily expository approach is a big detriment, as the filmmaker spends too much time describing events and providing her own commentary rather than showing through observation, but despite this major flaw it still manages to provide a number of genuine and moving moments. Less successful was Kim Min-kyung’s Remain, a drama about an unhappily married former dancer who has an affair with a man at the local disabled centre where she volunteers. While there are effective performances and moments, the ending takes a turn into absurdity, and overall the director cannot decide if she wants a more realistic character piece or an over-the-top melodrama. Even worse was Park Ju-young’s Goodbye Summer, a maudlin entry in the terminally-ill high school genre that curiously mixes in a long-take style into its familiar genre territory, with a result unlikely to please anyone. And at the bottom of the barrel would be Shim Hye-jung’s Yok-chang (A Bedsore), one of the worst films I have seen in many years. The story, involving the relationship between an immigrant caretaker of an elderly woman and that woman’s husband, has social aspects that are worth exploring, but it is shot so ineptly and performed so poorly that one wonders if it is perhaps an intentionally campy satire. Sadly, however, I do not think this is the case.

For the 20th anniversary, the festival added a special section called Newtro, “a special program that sheds light on the contemporary artists who have shared their vision with us for the last 20 years.”3 This included the latest films from both international and Korean directors who had showcased their work at past festivals, including many former Jeonju Cinema Project participants. I was able to screen two of the Korean entries: Ko Bong-soo’s Gal-gga-bu-da (Wish You Were Here) and Hong Hyung-seok’s Junha’s Planet, both of which were enjoyable if somewhat slight. This is especially the case with Wish You Were Here, in which the director Ko, whose previous films Delta Boys (2016), Teun-teun-i-ui Mo-heom (Loser’s Adventure, 2017), and Da-yeong-ssi (Hello, Dayoung, 2018) had debuted at the festival, plays himself in a mockumentary about his relationship with a much younger university student. The tone is primarily comic, and Ko and his collaborators enact scenarios that are often very amusing and highly self-deprecating. There is also more than a hint of satire at Korean indie filmmakers more generally and their tendency to date younger women of university age, although this never hits very hard. The resulting work is entertaining if rather thin (even at a very short 75-minute running time), and has a curious framing device of his girlfriend, who is a student of traditional Korean pansori, singing emotionally, scenes with a completely different tone than the rest of the narrative. Perhaps Ko, despite the farcical nature of the presentation here, is hinting at something real and painful from his own life after all. Junha’s Planet is a much more conventional documentary, following the year of a behaviourally difficult 11 year-old boy attending an alternative school. The teachers and classmates try their best to understand him, but Junha seems incapable of interacting with others without bursting out and committing violent acts. Director Hong focuses almost exclusively on the school life of Junha, but also does not really examine the school itself in any detail beyond how they deal with him. It seems either more of Junha and his life outside of the school, or more of the school besides Junha, would have made a more focused and complete film. As it stands, Junha’s Planet never really resonates as completely as the subject matter would suggest.

Junha’s Planet (Hong Hyung-seok)

2019 also marks the 100th anniversary of Korean cinema, 4 with Jeonju commemorating the event with two different retrospectives: “Another Upspring of Korean Cinema,”  which concentrates on the Korean classics from the 1950s up to the 1990s, and “Wild at Heart,” which looks at important landmarks of this century (which coincides with the Jeonju festival’s history). I had previously seen most of the films, but one great discovery for me was finally catching up with Lee Seong-gu’s Jang-gun-ui Su-yeom (The General’s Mustache, 1968). Unlike many of the other directors featured, such as Shin Sang-ok, Yu Hyun-mok, Lee Man-hee, and Kim Ki-young, Lee Seong-gu is not nearly as well-known, even amongst Korean cinema specialists. The General’s Mustache, however, stands out as an especially striking and modernist examination of modern Korean malaise of the late sixties. The plot takes the form of a mystery story, with a novelist named Kim Chul-woon (played by the ubiquitous Shin Seong-il, who appeared in over 500 films, including 47 in 1968 alone) found dead and two detectives assigned to try to determine if his death was suicide or homicide. Eventually they discover his former lover, played by Yoon Jeong-hee, best known from Lee Chang-dong’s Shi (Poetry, 2010) in one of her earlier roles, and we are shown her perspective on their life together. Like a classic noir, the storytelling fractures, with multiple flashbacks from multiple points of view and narration, and also like classic noir, there is a remarkable bleakness here, a kind of existential dread that somehow found a way past the censors, perhaps because of the detective’s final narration, which tries rather unsuccessfully to give a more positive spin on living in modern Seoul. This contrasts with Lee Man-hee’s Hyu-il (Holiday), released the same year but banned because of its bleakness, which Lee refused to soften with a happier ending. The General’s Mustache does not quite reach the level of that masterpiece, but it is a fascinating nonetheless and essential to understanding Korean cinema of the period.

In addition to the vast Korean output, I wanted to briefly comment on some of the international lineup and the various sections into which it is divided. The International Competition category can be traced back to the early years of the festival, where it was referred to as “Asian NewComers” with the goal of “discover(ing) new films from Asia, and look(ing) for new and young directors who will lead the change of Asian films.”5 In 2004, the name was changed to “Indie Vision” and described by the festival program as “broadening its perspective with its 5th anniversary … invit(ing) independent films from all over the world, in the belief that the act of making an independent film is the same regardless of national boundaries.”6  It eventually becomes known as the International Competition in 2008, “introduc(ing) the cinema of new talents worldwide showing the potential of alternative cinema aesthetics.” 7 This year’s Grand Prize was awarded to Ivan Markovic and Wu Linfeng’s Chun Nuan Hua Kai (From Tomorrow On, I Will); the Best Picture Prize went to Helvecio Marins Jr.’s Homing; and the Special Jury Prize was given to Kavich Neang’s documentary Last Night I Saw You Smiling. Both From Tomorrow on, I Will and Homing debuted in February at the Berlinale, as did another competition film, Nora Fingscheidt’s Systemsprenger (System Crasher), which surprisingly went home empty-handed despite being awarded the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize at Berlin and being one of my favourites of the festival. It tells the story of a nine year-old girl, Bennie, with a traumatic past which leads her to often violent outbursts against fellow children and adults. She is thus a “system crasher”, too young for juvenile detention and too dangerous to keep around younger children. She wants to return to her mother, who is reluctant because she has younger children and seems unwilling to deal with the disruption Bennie causes. This is director Fingscheidt’s fiction feature debut, and she shows an ability to present the material with immediacy (she has a background in documentary, which shows) while keeping the audience balanced in their assessment. There are no villains here, even the mother who ultimately abandons her; the people working within the system are sympathetic identification figures, and even the system itself is not evil: some problems are impossible to solve, and this may be one of them, although the ending does not leave the audience completely without hope.

My two other favourites of the festival were François Ozon’s Grâce à Dieu (By the Grace of God) (Jeonju’s Masters section), winner of the Silver Bear Special Jury Prize at Berlin, and May el-Toukhy’s Dronningen (Queen of Hearts) (Jeonju’s Cinemafest section), which played at both Sundance, where it won the Audience Award, and Rotterdam.  Both are dramas dealing with similar themes of sexuality, transgression, and the imbalance of power, albeit in two dramatically different contexts and with two vastly different approaches. By the Grace of God deals with the Catholic priest abuse scandal, which has been the subject of numerous films in recent years, most notably Tom McCarthy’s excellent Oscar winner Spotlight (2015), but Ozon is able to offer a fresh take on the material. The key is structure. We begin with Alexandre (Melvil Poupaud) who informs the church of his childhood victimisation; he is an upper-middle-class man who remains a devout Catholic despite his abuse at the hands of priest as a teenager. The film then moves on to François (Denis Ménochet), a lower middle-class man who has rejected the church following his abuse and is more radical in his critiques. Finally, we meet Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud, in a standout performance), a working-class man who has been seriously damaged and had his life destroyed from his childhood trauma. The characters eventually unite for the final act, gaining a sense of community in their legal battle against the institution. Like Spotlight, there is a certain procedural aspect here, but with the focus on the victims rather than the media, and as a result it gains in emotional depth while also allowing for sociological observation (although not the rigorous institutional analysis of the earlier film). Queen of Hearts, by contrast, is from the point of view of the perpetuator, although one who, unlike the Catholic priest pedophile, is not easily classified as a monster. In fact, she is a middle-class lawyer (a great and brave performance by Trine Dyrholm) who spends her time fighting for victims of injustice. However, when her husband’s teenage son moves in with them, they begin a passionate affair (rendered very explicitly, I think necessarily) that threatens her secure existence. Director and co-writer el-Toukhy crafts the film expertly, challenging the audience by positioning us with its flawed protagonist, who is at the same time better and worse than most of us. By the conclusion, the viewer is forced to remain within this uncomfortable moral terrain.

Grâce à Dieu (By the Grace of God, François Ozon)

Rounding out my screenings this year were films from the sections that show Jeonju’s roots most clearly: Cinematology and Frontline. Both sections are fairly recent: Cinematology was added in 2015 and Frontline in 2017. However, both are indicative of the festival attempting to keep some of their original focus on both cinephilia and political cinema, respectively, while basically acknowledging that these aspects have become more marginal in recent years. Cinematology, described as “films about films that offer insight into cinema,”8 featured the excellent final film from the late Agnès Varda, Varda by Agnès, a career overview essay that achieves something rare: a film perfect for both Varda fanatics and newcomers, giving viewers a clear idea of her unique sensibility and providing great background and context for her important works. Ross Lipman’s Between Two Cinemas had a similar approach, albeit from a much less prolific and celebrated auteur. In fact, Lipman is mostly associated with the world of film preservation, working at UCLA for many years and restoring many film classics. In 2016, his film Notfilm (2015), detailing the lost collaboration of Buster Keaton and Samuel Beckett, screened at Jeonju, and Between Two Cinemas has certain similarities, particularly in its detailing of the contentious meeting between cinema giants Andrei Tarkovsky and Stan Brakhage at the Telluride Film Festival in 1983. However, most of the film is actually devoted to Lipman’s own work as a director and how he has been torn between his desire for experimentation and his interest in narrative. Lipman shows, in their entirety, his experimental short films Rhythm 93 (1995) and Casa Loma (unfinished), as well as his slightly longer 30-minute narrative The Interview (2004). Thus, it feels more like a lecture than an actual essay, as well as slightly self-indulgent, but Lipman’s knowledge and passion for cinema ultimately redeem the work, especially in a very touching conversation he records with experimental filmmaker Bruce Baillie. The screening also benefited from Lipman’s appearance afterwards for a lengthy interview and question period, which was also more common at this year’s festival.

The Frontline program is described as “a collection of the most unique and imaginative films, which has been introduced on the front line of cinema topology with issues raising questions and arguments, controversial worldviews, and innovative film styles,”9 and both of the films I screened in this section were documentaries that looked back on the radical politics of France in the period of the sixties and seventies in an attempt to re-examine these ideas in the light of contemporary film and society. The more successful of the two was Jean-Gabriel Périot’s Nos défaites (Our Defeats), in which high school film students re-enact sequences from such classics as Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise (1967), Chris Marker and Mario Marret’s À bientôt, j’espère (Be Seeing You, 1968) and Alain Tanner’s La Salamandre (The Salamander, 1971), among others. Périot also includes interviews with the students about the meanings of the incendiary scenes they are performing; many have little knowledge of the ideas involved, while others are already taking a more politicised view of their society. The approach brings these older texts alive and provides a glimpse at these young people as they undergo their education and try to apply the cinema of the past to their own situation. Callisto McNulty’s Delphine et Carole, Insoumuses (Delphine and Carole) covers the same period but from a feminist perspective, chronicling the friendship and collaboration between star actress Delphine Seyrig and filmmaker Carole Roussopoulos (director McNulty’s grandmother). The project began with Roussopoulos making a documentary about Seyrig (who passed away in 1990); after Roussopoulos’s own death in 2009, her granddaughter decided to use some of the material assembled and make a film about the feminist movement of the 1970s and the importance of Seyrig and Roussopoulos’s collaboration. It is completely an archival film, but in her discussion afterwards McNulty, who has a background in Gender Studies, claimed that she also wanted to try to understand the present moment in world feminism. However, the film never really makes that connection, but remains worthwhile as a document of the period and as an introduction to Seyrig and Roussopoulos’s important work.

Clearly, much effort and expense went into Jeonju’s 20th anniversary, and it resulted in one of the better festivals of recent memory. The programmers were able to select many fine features that premiered at earlier festivals (especially Berlin) while also showcasing a much wider range of Korean cinema than normal through its retrospectives and Newtro programs. In fact, there were so many Korean features that, despite covering the festival for the entire week, I still could not catch up with several new works from admired filmmakers, such as Park Jung-bum’s Pago (Height of the Wave), Jung Hyung-suk’s Ensemble, Kim Hee-jung’s Peu-rang-seu Yeo-ja (A French Woman), and Jeon Kyu-hwan’s  Joh-eun Yeo-ja (Wonderful Woman), among others. However, going forward, one can be slightly concerned about the quality of the Korean Competition section, both in terms of the festival’s ability to attract enough viable features to round out its lineup as well as the encroachment on the space of bigger budget quasi-indies that betray Jeonju’s original purpose. One also hopes that the championing of more radical and experimental visions will not disappear from the lineup, which is ultimately one of the benefits of such milestone anniversaries: making the festival look back to its valuable past as it also inevitably moves forward and transforms.

Jeonju International Film Festival
2-11 May, 2019
Festival website: http://eng.jiff.or.kr/

Endnotes:

  1. Box office figures for Korean films since 2004 can be found at the Korean Film Council website: http://www.koreanfilm.or.kr/eng/main/main.jsp.
  2. 2007 Jeonju International Film Festival Program, p. 84.
  3. 2019 Jeonju Intl. Film Festival Program, p. 51.
  4. Sonia Kil, “South Korea Celebrates 100 Years of Cinema,” Variety, 13 May, 2019: https://variety.com/2019/film/global/south-korea-100-years-cinema-1203213233/.
  5. 2002 Jeonju International Film Festival Program, p. 32.
  6. 2004 Jeonju International Film Festival Program, p. 25.
  7. 2008 Jeonju International Film Festival Program, p. 29.
  8. 2019 Jeonju Intl. Film Festival Program, p. 199.
  9. 2019 Jeonju Intl. Film Festival Program, p. 148.