South Korea's International Women's Film Fest Opens With Tribute to War, Disaster Victims

One of the world's largest film events celebrating women in movies and movies about women, this year's IWFFIS spotlights female victims of wartime atrocities.

SEOUL — The 16th International Women's Film Festival in Seoul (IWFFIS) opened Thursday in a subdued manner, as organizers honored 16 persons still missing in the recent South Korean ferry disaster as well as victims of wartime atrocities highlighted by films in the lineup, including the fest opener For Those Who Can Tell No Tales.

"We are overwhelmed with shock and pain by the tragic accident of the Sewol ferry," said festival director Lee Hyae-kyung, who, like other attendees, wore a yellow ribbon that has become a nation-wide symbol in deference for ferry victims. "I hope [the 16th IWFFIS] serves as a turning point that encourages our society to reexamine its fundamental values and problems."

PHOTOS: K-Pop Stars Share Handmade Tributes to South Korean Ferry Disaster Victims

One of Korea's most popular film events, IWFFIS has been among the world's largest events celebrating women in movies and movies about women. It has launched the globe-trotting Berlin Asian Women's Film Festival and collaborates with a number of women's cinema events across Europe and Asia. This year's edition features 99 works from 30 countries.

The opening ceremony took place without the usual reception party and other glitzy events -- much like the Jeonju International Film Festival that took place earlier this month, as hundreds of passengers comprising mostly young teenagers died in the maritime accident off the coast of the Korean peninsula.

"I'd like to extend my sympathies to the families and victims of Sewol ferry disaster," said Kym Vercoe, Australian actress/co-scriptwriter of the opening film. Jasmila Zbanic, the Bosnian filmmaker known for the Berlinale-winning Grbavica, stressed the importance of memory when it comes to the history of violence from an outsider's point of view.

"This film is about remembering the victims of war. This isn't a story that is limited to Bosnia, and is dealt with in many works in the film festival. It raises awareness about what happens to women in conflict situations," she said.

VIDEO: 'For Those Who Can Tell No Tales' Trailer

This year's lineup features other films that spotlight wartime atrocities, including The Murming, Habitual Sadness and My Own Breathing -- a trio of documentaries by Byun Young-joo on the Korean "comfort women" who were coerced into sexual slavery by Japan's imperial army during World War II.

Byun has emerged as one of Korea's representative female auteurs with the critically acclaimed drama Helpless, and IWFFIS organizers announced that all proceeds from the screening for her three documentaries will be donated to The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.

Japan's wartime atrocities during its colonial rule of Korea (1910-45) lives on in the minds of many contemporary Koreans, as seen by how Justin Bieber's visit to a controversial Japanese shrine where World War II criminals are interred recently provoked nationwide outrage here. 

The ceremony was attended by other VIPs from near and far, including Chinese filmmaker Ji Dan, Pecha Lo, director of Taiwan's Women Make Waves Film Festival, feminist scholar Kim Hyun-gyung, Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) director Lee Yong-kwan and founder/honorary director Kim Dong-ho, and Cho Min-soo, the award-winning actress of Kim Ki-duk's Pieta.

Meanwhile the festival continues through June 5 at Megabox Shinchon, Seoul.