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The Hungarian drama On Body and Soul from director Ildiko Enyedi, winner of this year’s Berlin Film Festival, will open the 2017 Jeonju International Film Festival in South Korea.
On Body and Soul will have its Asian premier in the South Korean city, marking the start of the 18th Jeonju fest, which runs April 27-May 6.
The 2017 Berlin Golden Bear-winning drama is among a record lineup of 229 films from 58 countries at Jeonju, one of Asia’s top film events dedicated to contemporary indie and art house titles.
This year’s selection spotlights artistic freedom — an issue at the forefront of both the Korean film industry and the general public after the South Korean government of ex-President Park Geun-hye was implicated in a wide-ranging blacklisting scandal that censored thousands of local artists, including the likes of Oldboy director Park Chan-wook.
This year’s festival will take place under the slogan “Outlet for Cinematic Expression” and will feature a new “Frontline” section of documentaries on hot-button political issues.
“We have been able to select and screen controversial works in spite of external pressures both big and small. We believe this is crucial to defending the identity of our film festival,” said fest director Lee Choong-jik.
Among the controversial titles on offer are Project Cheonan Ship, about the sinking of a local navy ship for which North Korea has been blamed, and Mizo, a drama about a young girl entering into an incestuous affair, which made headlines after being initially banned by the Korean Media Rating Board.
JIFF this year is also throwing its weight behind the local industry, using its Jeonju Cinema Project, which often invites prominent international filmmakers to present new works, to focus on three projects by Korean directors: Project N by Lee Chang-jae, The Poet and the Boy from Kim Yang-hee and The First Leap by Kim Dae-hwan.
“The Korean film industry is becoming increasingly polarized with little place for indie filmmakers to stand,” said Kim Young-jin, head programmer of JIFF. “The Korean independent film industry has long been stagnant and has not been able to impact the mainstream market like before. To help turn this back we decided to give promising Korean indie filmmakers a chance.”
While JIFF’s overall lineup has expanded, however, the number of Chinese titles has fallen significantly amid recent political tensions between the two Asian countries over a U.S. missile defense system. The number of Chinese tourists to Korea has plummeted while Koreans, such as filmmaker Kim Ki-duk, have had trouble receiving working visas to China.
“We only have a small handful of Chinese works this year. Unfortunately, some of the Chinese filmmakers are unable to attend the festival,” said programmer Jang Byung-won.
Festivalgoers will nevertheless be able to watch works in the newly renovated Jeonju Dome, which will showcase the opening and closing ceremonies as well as the highly popular outdoor screenings. The fest will close with the Korean premiere of Survival Family by Japanese filmmaker Shinobu Yaguchi. The film is about a family that embarks on a long journey by bike to the father’s hometown following a blackout in Tokyo.
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