Jeonju Film Fest 2013 Wraps Under Harsh Criticism From Judges

5:23 PM PST 05/03/2013 by Lee Hyo-won
Courtesy of Jeonju International Film Festival
Ko Suk-man

Under the new leadership of Ko Suk-man, South Korea’s representative alternative cinema showcase suffered a temporary identity crisis by focusing too much on mainstream movies.

SEOUL — The 14th Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF), South Korea’s leading showcase for independent cinema, wrapped Friday under harsh criticism from judges.

The first edition to open under the auspices of newly inaugurated festival director Ko Suk-man, this year’s event has succeeded in reaching out to a sizeable audience by increasing its lineup of mainstream fare — in spite of some extremely bad weather where it rained for four out of the nine day-run.

However, quantity does not necessarily equal quality, and even the festival’s own judges complained about the lack of satisfying films in competition.

“The number of submissions was too small and it was difficult to find a film that reflected the auteur’s mind,” Kazakhstani filmmaker Darezhan Omirbayev, a judge of the international competition section, told reporters on Friday.

“No film caught my eye. I am not the only one and other jury members are of the same opinion. There really needs to be more effort to experiment,” said the internationally renowned auteur of the Venice-winning Kardiogramma as well as Student, the latter of which has hotwired the film fest circuit including Busan.

Korea’s star director Ryoo Seung-wan, whose own debut with Die Bad at the inaugural edition of JIFF in 2000 helped launch a highly successful film career, agreed: “I focused on how the filmmakers treated their characters and on how future-oriented the films were, but there was no film I could passionately support.”

The helmer of such box office hits as this year’s The Berlin File added that the jury members, which included popular actor Jung Woo-sung and Cornell film professor Don Fredericksen, had diverging opinions. “I think it’s about time the Jeonju Film Festival reconnects with its original roots as an event for alternative, experimental works,” he said.

In a Hollywood Reporter interview on Sunday, Jung also noted that Jeonju need not necessarily try to become a bigger festival like Busan and try to retain its cozy atmosphere.

While the films in competition may have not satisfied judges, however, JIFF has managed to showcase a handful of interesting works, such as its opener Firefox by Cannes-winning auteur Laurent Cantet and the fest's signature Jeonju Digital Project by top Asian directors. The controversial documentary Project Cheonan Ship as well as a special section dedicated to non-Bollywood films from India in time for the 100th anniversary of cinema in the neighboring Asian country were also noteworthy.

The festival closed with Wadjda by Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa Al Mansour. This year JIFF attracted some 65,300 festival-goers, according to organizers, which was a less than last year’s 67,144 mostly due to poor weather. The occupancy rate was 79 percent, also a little down from 80.1 percent in 2012.

FILM REVIEW: Wadjda

“It was a very busy event as we tried to hit two birds with one stone, by trying to boost the festivity and provide a diverse range of films,” said festival director Ko. “Our newly recruited staff members were far from perfect in terms of organization but acknowledging our shortcomings will allow us to grow more in the future.”

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