No curtain callsJEONJU, North Jeolla The curtain went down Friday on the third Jeonju International Film Festival, closing its seven-day run. Unfortunately, poor planning, delays, cancellations, politics and an unimaginative selection of films conspired to make this perhaps the least successful Jeonju Film Festival thus far.
The city traffic, already made worse than usual because of preparations for the local elections and the FIFA World Cup games in June, irritated the festival guests, who often were forced to endure waits of up to an hour on the shuttle buses.
Rumors and unpleasant signs of politics began intruding at the festival from even before the opening. On the preopening night, the festival announced that the Grand National Party's likely presidential candidate Lee Hoi-chang would be at the opening ceremony. The party had a nomination primary scheduled that weekend in Jeonju, and Mr. Lee expressed an interest in attending the opening premier of "KT," a Japanese-Korean joint-production based on the 1973 abduction of President Kim Dae-Jung. But when the festival officials turned down Mr. Lee's request to be formally introduced at the opening ceremonies, he called off the appearance.
The festival took another hit when the Chinese government sent a letter two weeks before the event's opening, canceling three prominent feature films from China "The Orphan of Anyang," "Fish and Elephant" and "A Woman Insulted." The reason for the cancellation, the government official wrote, was the negative images of China portrayed in these films, which could "seriously affect the country's diplomatic image," as well as the films' failure to submit to the appropriate screening process required before foreign premiers.
Along with the cancellation, the Chinese government sent along a warning that should the films be shown anyway in Jeonju against their wishes, the festival might not receive any Chinese films in the future. The festival promptly gave in rather than risk the wrath of the Chinese government. Sadly ironic, especially considering the goal of this year's festival was "to examine the international complications reflected in Cinema." Cinema verite indeed.
There were some obvious signs at this year's festival that the programmer Seo Dong-jin the same programmer who organizes the Seoul Queer Film Festival may have been at once too ambitious and too narrow, at least in terms of booking international films.
Three years ago, when the festival began, there were many films that were highly alternative and uncompromising, but at the same time commercial. Works such as Jane Campion's "Holy Smoke," Frederic Fonteyne's "A Pornographic Affair" and Wim Wenders's "Buena Vista Social Club" were challenging and smart, while drawing in the viewers and helping to build the festival's reputation.
Local critics agreed that the festival's image fit well into Jeonju's turbulent history, long-marked by frequent and harsh government suppression due to strong regionalism.
This year, however, there were loud murmurings among visitors that the selections were "too aggressive" and ideological, starting with this year's theme, "War and Cinema." Most of the complaints were due to the absence of American films in the festival's main section, Cinemascope, that was supposed to examine the diverse trends of today's films.
Other guests were unhappy with the festival's focus on Latin America, particularly films from Argentina that looked at political subjects, such as the country's democratic movement in the 1980s and '90s.
The opening film, "KT," which created such a stir at the Berlin Film Festival in February, was roundly drubbed by local critics for overdramatizing and sensationalizing the facts of the story.
Overall, the festival received far less media attention than in previous years. Perhaps the selection was overly ambitious, too heavy for the majority of the young festival visitors who expected films that were just a little less predictable than what they would normally see in local multiplex theaters.
The failure to satisfy the public's tastes may have also resulted from the sudden resignation of two festival programmers, the film critics Jung Sung-il and Kim So-young. They were considered to be the best-connected organizers a the festival, able to bring in the international film world to Jeonju.
Mr. Seo at a press conference also leveled blame on the leading film festival in Korea, the Pusan International Film Festival, claiming that it dominates international distributors, especially those based in the United States.
"We began this year's festival with some worries," Seo said. "We thought it was about time we settled the framework of the festival. We attempted to base our selections on various experiments and new discoveries that fit the framework of Jeonju. But as we announced the list of films, we had some regrets that our approach to programming might have been lacking for certain tastes."
"Independent filmmaking" has become so overused in contemporary cinema that it's now almost a cliche. Whereas once the term resonated with artistic innovation, these days it is little more than a marketing strategy.
One producer looking to restore luster to the term is Christine Vachon. Her New York-based company, Killer Films, has developed a reputation for breaking taboos and creating exciting, offbeat films films such as "Velvet Goldmine," "I Shot Andy Warhol," "Boys Don't Cry" and "Postcards from America." Before Killer Films, Ms. Vachon founded Apparatus Productions, a nonprofit organization that funded young independent filmmakers.
"It's become a trend among the Hollywood actors to star in independent films," said Ms. Vachon while at Jeonju last week. "It's a way for the actors to shake out their guilt after starring in lousy Hollywood blockbusters. In fact, I get those calls all the time. Charlie Sheen called me the other day and said he wanted to work with me in my next film."
During the press conference held last Sunday, Ms. Vachon talked about the substantial difficulties of finding funding for her films, which are mostly low-budget, independent features. "They're all hard. And when you are done, you just sort of forget about it. There are fewer cinemas that show art house fair."
Ms. Vachon had said earlier in an interview with the American press that a good producer should be able to do everything, "from making coffee to raising the money, attracting the cast, finding the script and finding the director."
Killer Films is currently producing "Party Monster," a story about a notorious party kid who kills his friend. Macaulay Culkin, somewhat notorious himself, plays the main role.
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