Jeonju Film Fest: Revamped Digital Project 'Saves' Gyorgy Palfi's Directing Career

Jeonju International Film Festival
"Free Fall"

The esteemed Hungarian director says the South Korean festival's bold decision to back feature-length films stopped him from leaving the film industry after being unable to helm projects at home in recent years.

JEONJU, South Korea — Gyorgy Palfi may have emerged as one of Hungary's most important cineastes, but he was on the verge of quitting as he was unable to find substantial support at home for his films. The Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF) suggested doing a digital film project, which the Taxidermia helmer says saved his career.

"Unfortunately I couldn't make movies in my own country [beginning from] three years ago," said Palfi, whose previous title Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen had been invited to the 2012 edition of Cannes. "I thought around last October that maybe I need to find a new job and [end] my career as a filmmaker. I was very [sad] because I had a lot of scripts but did not have the [opportunity] to make a movie. [Jeonju] saved me."

Palfi explained that while it is relatively cheap to rent studios and film equipment in Budapest, it is difficult to cover the insurance fee and pay for the crew. Applying for support from the Hungarian National Film Fund is too time-consuming, he added.


JIFF had made the difficult decision to merge its two short film funding programs in order to back three feature-length movies. It is part of the South Korean indie film event's long-term initiative to ensure that experimental digital works can find distribution channels beyond the run of the festival.

"It was a new challenge for us to invest and produce films, but we wanted to make a lasting contribution to cinema by backing works that will be shown beyond JIFF," said festival director Ko Suk-man.

Previously having invited such world-renowned auteurs as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Jia Zhangke and Bong Joon Ho, this year's tri-feature Jeonju Digital Project features Palfi along with emerging Korean directors Shin Yeon-shick and Park Jung-bum. Organizers hope that the films will hit local theaters before next year's edition of JIFF and also hit the international festival circuit. No sales representative has been set yet.

Though JIFF paid for only 20 percent of Gyorgy's $500,000 (500 million won) film, Free Fall, he said "it was the most important because it was the first one" to kick-start the project. He was able to find additional support from European producers to create the film, a surreal drama that presents seven short stories "like a dream or a nightmare" — depending on how you look at it, the filmmaker said.

Likewise, Shin and Park, two of Korea's most noted emerging directors, said they were able to realize experimental work that would have been difficult to pursue.

Park had thought up the idea for Alive many years ago but was unable to find a way to finance it. "In the independent film industry, 300 million won [roughly $300,000] is a huge budget that is almost impossible to secure," he said.

Like his international breakthrough Journals of Musan, the filmmaker also plays the lead in the tragicomedy about class conflict in a soybean paste factory. Having completed the film only two days prior to its premiere at JIFF, Park said that even after additional editing it will be about three hours long — an unthinkable running time for most Korean films.

Shin also felt grateful for the opportunity. "My film is about a man that turns into a bird. It doesn't make sense. It's a story that is impossible to produce in the Korean film scene," he said about The Avian Kind. Though the filmmaker has achieved commercial success with Rough Play, he is also known for edgier indie projects such as The Russian Novel.

"I really hope [the Jeonju Digital Project films] will be able to earn some revenue. I sincerely hope that creativity won't be limited by capitalistic structures," said Shin. Gyorgy meanwhile had more immediate financial concerns: "Everyone — the studio rental company, Jeonju Digital Project — gave to my film for free and I need to pay them back," he said. "If these first three features can make money then it an develop and finance more directors in the future."