Something new for GwangjuSince the 1990s, Korea has given birth to a torrent of film festivals. Busan’s international film festival is the most famous, but several Korean cities now put on festivals of their own, each with a distinctive style.
Gwangju, in South Jeolla province, joined the festival circuit in 2001, with the mission of showing “ultramodern and innovative” films, and has since gained a big following, from 8,000 in the first year to 45,000 last year. It is holding its fourth annual international film festival Thursday, which runs through Sept. 11.
The Gwangju festival has been known for its difficult-to-swallow art films, but this year, organizers are attempting to break free from its stereotype. The lineup is loaded with films that are both inviting and acclaimed, in accordance with its theme of “Voir, Revoir” (Discover, Rediscover).
Noteworthy films include a collection of the latest works by master filmmakers around the world, as well as foreign films that did not find a distributor in the Korean market. All non-English films will be subtitled in English, with a few exceptions. The festival’s Web site will note which films will have subtitles.
The opening film comes from Korea’s neighbor, Japan, titled “Loved Gun,” directed by Kensaku Watanabe. As a concoction of romance, action and comedy, the 32-year-old director freely samples different genres at breakneck speed.
The Gwangju festival has a special section called “Young Cinema,” featuring up-and-coming directors from around the world.
This year’s Young Cinema has 10 films, including “The Green Hat,” by Chinese director Liu Fen Dou, which comes recommended by the festival’s head programmer, Im Jae-cheol.
“The Green Hat” is about a young man in mainland China who robs a bank to move to the United States to be with his girlfriend, only to learn that she is seeing somebody else. Through the story, the director reveals China of the past, present and future.
Another on the list is “L’Esquive” (French slang meaning “furtively drawing back”), which earned an award at the Venice International Film Festival for its Tunisian-born director Abdellatif Kechiche.
Also included are “Andre Valente,” by Portuguese director Catarina Ruivo, and “Bitnaneun Geogit” (Fade Into You), by the Korean director who calls himself Chegy.
Then comes World Cinema Best, a collection of the latest films from master directors, another Gwangju specialty. This year’s best covers seven films, including “Not on the Lips,” a French film by Alain Resnais, who shows an unusually lighthearted spirit in a surprising musical.
The American director Errol Morris also presents “Fog of War,” a documentary about former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and his thoughts on the United States’ role in modern history. The film won an Oscar for best documentary last year.
The “Non-fiction Cinema” section, dedicated to avant-garde documentaries, is what gives Gwangju’s film festival color. Mr. Im recommends “The 10th District Court,” by Raymond Depardon, who filmed different hearings in the same court for three months and packaged it into a documentary.
Another entry, “Haruko,” from Japan, will deeply move Korean viewers, as it tells the true story about a Korean woman who had to move to Japan during the colonial period and suffered hardship and discrimination.
As an effort to get closer to the public, Gwangju again features a section called “Citizen’s Cinema-scape,” a collection of films that can be easily absorbed by anyone. One such film, “Not For or Against,” is by Cedric Klapisch from France, who created the fun and colorful “Spanish Apartment.”
When it comes to popularity, however, nothing beats “Korean Cinema, Now,” which includes some terribly mainstream films that you wouldn’t expect to find at a film festival like Gwangju. Still, the section includes critically acclaimed films such as “Aneun Yeoja” (Someone Special) by the glib-tongued, master-of-all-trades Jang Jin; “Songhwan” (Repatriation) by independent documentary filmmaker Kim Dong-won, and “Yeojaneun Namjaeui Miraeda” (Woman Is the Future of Man) by Hong Sang-soo.
Chinese films play a big role in the Gwangju festival this year, getting their own section. “My Bittersweet Taiwan” offers an impartial look at the controversy between mainland China and Taiwan, through the eyes of a man whose life is ruined as he is torn between the two countries. Nine more films are in the lineup, including shorts.
The “Golden Age of Wide Screen” section presents films from the early 1950s, produced as a bulwark against the then-new medium called television. Directors such as Fritz Lang, Nicholas Ray and David Lean tried to fight TV’s influence by making films for a wider screen, with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Thus were born “Moonfleet” by Mr. Lang, “Bigger Than Life” by Mr. Ray and “Doctor Zhivago” by Mr. Lean.
The films will be screened in Gwangju Theater, which has the biggest screen in Korea. The theater will also show “Manhattan” by Woody Allen and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” starring Clint Eastwood and directed by Sergio Leone.
Gwangju’s film festival will honor a freedom fighter, Kim Yeom, a Korean movie star in the early 20th-century Chinese film scene, with a retrospective. Though Mr. Kim is almost unknown to Koreans today, back then he used his star status to further Korea’s struggle for independence. He starred in anti-Japanese films and established a school for Koreans in China.
The closing film is “Gil” (Road), by longtime Korean director Bae Chang-ho, who also stars in this film as a traveling peddler. The film depicts the beauty of workmanship by a man who never compromises his principles.
Gwangju, the biggest city in South Jeolla province, is a seven-hour drive from Seoul, assuming there’s no traffic. The KTX bullet trains, however, take you from Seoul to the city in about three hours, and express buses are also available every day.
However you get there, it’s worth the trip for the chance to see some films that won’t be playing at a theater near you anytime soon.
by Chun Su-jin
For more information on the festival and ticket sales, visit the official Web site at www.giff.org, also available in English and Chinese, or call the organizers at (062) 228-9968.