South Korean Fest Unveils Focus on Movies About North Korea

The Gwangju Festival has a special focus on films from Kim Jong-un's North Korea.
The Gwangju Festival has a special focus on films from Kim Jong-un's North Korea.
 AP Images

SEOUL — The Gwangju International Film Festival (GIFF) will present 91 films from 25 countries next month in the South Korean city of Gwangju, with a special focus on North Korea.

GIFF will run from Aug. 28-Sept. 1 in the South Korean city, which is largely associated with pro-democracy movements. Gwangju is also host to Asia's largest fine-art biennale.

This year's opener is Late Spring, a Korean War (1950-1953) drama by Cho Geun-hyun (26 Years) that recently won multiple awards at film festivals across Europe and the U.S.

Festival-goers will be given the rare opportunity to watch movies about North Korea. The 2012 documentary Letters From Pyongyang follows Korean-Canadian director Jason Lee as he tries to trace back his family history in North Korea when he receives a letter from his brother from the reclusive state. The production is reported to have taken four years, as Lee had to wait for approval from Pyongyang's officials.

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Also in the lineup is Goodbye, Pyongyang by Yang Yong-hi. The Japanese-born ethnic Korean filmmaker is widely known for chronicling her family ties in North Korea through such previous films as Dear Pyongyang.

This won't be the first time GIFF is presenting films about and/or from North Korea.

In 2012, the festival made headlines for inviting the North Korea-China co-production Meet in Pyongyang. Screening the film was a complicated process that involved approval from Seoul's Ministry of Unification. Following the film's sold-out screenings, organizers sought to show North Korean productions last year but failed, instead presenting Comrade Kim Goes Flying, a North Korea-Belgium-U.K. romantic comedy.

"We are screening films related to North Korea each year out of our hopes and dreams of unification of the two Koreas," said GIFF festival director Yeom Jeong-ho.

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