In Jeonju, a feast of ‘small’ filmsJEONJU, North Jeolla ― The small city of Jeonju, North Jeolla province, is mostly known for its serene and traditional beauty, but for the past nine days it has been host to cinephiles from around the world with the 6th Jeonju International Film Festival. From live music performances by independent bands to avant-garde artists and film forums, the festival presented a lively scene.
The festival, which ended yesterday, has grown a lot in both quality and size. This year, it presented 176 films from 36 countries, focusing on small, underground films that otherwise would not be introduced here.
More than 600 filmmakers from Korea and abroad came to the city, with 69,000 tickets sold during the festival, up from 59,000 last year. “Only 35 percent of seats on average were taken last year, but that jumped to 79 percent this year,” says Lee Jung-jin, the publicity chief, “which shows that the Jeonju festival has cemented its status” of showing independent, experimental films for a specialized group of viewers.
The jury members awarded prizes to “Harvest Time,” by Russian director Marina Razbezhkina; “Czech Dream” by Vit Klusak of the Czech Republic; and “Oxhide,” from Chinese director Liu Jia Yin, with a special mention to Kristen Thomson, the star of the Canadian film “I, Claudia.” The festival closed with the Korean film “Antarctic Journal,” starring Song Gang-ho. Now, cinephiles can look ahead to next spring.
North African films highlight Arab culture
Arguably, the most notable program at the Jeonju film festival this year was the special section “Discovery: Maghreb Cinema,” in which eight films from Morocco and Tunisia were presented for the first time in Korea. Nacer Khemir, a Tunisian director based in Paris, and Mohamed Bakrim, the vice president of the Moroccan film commission, traveled for many hours to attend the festival.
The Maghreb (meaning “a place where the sun sets”) section was planned to advance an understanding of Arab culture, about which too much misunderstanding prevails in many parts of the world, especially after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“The true nature of Arab culture has been too distorted by some dark propaganda schemes,” Mr. Bakrim says. “But we want to show that we, the Arabs, are doing our very best in our own way to live our lives.”
Mr. Bakrim and Mr. Khemir say they appreciated the chance to properly introduce their cinema; even though they are both part of Arab culture, Moroccan and Tunisian films are strikingly different.
The Moroccan film scene is enjoying a renaissance, according to Mr. Bakrim, who says, “After freedom of expression was achieved about five years ago, Morocco is seeing at least 10 to 15 films of great scale and big budgets every year, with a big film community being established. In the past, movie critics in Morocco were sad people. Now, they’re happy people, enjoying la vie en rose.”
Tunisia, on the other hand, is still suffering from chronic economic hardship, which Mr. Khemir views as being behind the rather inactive film scene there. “Only about six films come out in Tunisia a year, at most, despite a number of ambitious and talented directors. The people [of Tunisia] are suffering from fear after 9/11, along with economic difficulties, which is producing a vicious circle. A film [industry] cannot develop alone, because it works together with other parts of a society,” he says.
Despite such limitations, Mr. Khemir mentions a budding hope. “In recent years, Tunisia has been seeing a growing number of women directors, who are not afraid to confront the reality of Islamic society that’s unfair to women. Considering that everyone, especially men, cannot be happy when women are not happy, this is a very welcome change.”
Mr. Khemir expresses a strong interest in cultural exchanges with Korea. Mr. Bakrim echoes the sentiment, saying, “Friends at home asked me for Samsung digital cameras or cell phone gadgets. But next time, I hope to hear about them asking for videotapes or DVDs of Korean films.”
For an underground director, movies justify existence
The American underground film director David Gordon Green is certain he has only five more years to live. Since, when he was 15 years old, a nun at his Christian school told him that she had a vision of him dying at 35, he stopped going to church and started to think about the premonition every day, even during his time as a jury member of the Jeonju Film Festival, where he also presented his acclaimed 2003 thriller “Undertow.”
Despite this shadow on his life, the seemingly aloof director is keeping busy. His plans include creating a religion of his own, a kind of Buddhism without the reincarnation element. Every believer of his religion would have to sing in public every day, as the director himself crooned the “Ohio Riverboat Song” during the interview.
Yet what’s keeping him busiest at the moment is filmmaking. During his stay in Jeonju, Mr. Green finished writing one script, while starting another. On his way back home, he’s stopping off in Los Angeles to shoot a commercial for Honda, a good, easy moneymaking source, he says. The most important thing in life, however, is “to have fun,” he adds, sipping an iced coffee.
It’s not quite a surprise, but this Arkansas-born director, raised in Texas and based in New Orleans, is not a generous interview subject. “I know what you’re going to ask. I’ve done, what, 600 interviews and the questions were all the same,” he says.
As a jury member, Mr. Green saw a couple of films a day, but selecting one out of 10 films for a $10,000 prize did not seem particularly hard for him. “I fell asleep 10 minutes after some films started,” he says, adding, “I have the best taste [among the three jury members of the section].”
He describes himself as “only a jerk,” but that view does not apply to his work as a director. Debuting in 2000 with the much acclaimed “George Washington,” Mr. Green won a special jury award at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival for “All the Real Girls.” He soon expects to work with Sydney Pollack and other noted directors, yet this underground filmmaker still believes that “less money means less fear.”
To maintain such artistic freedom, he’s been working at construction sites to earn money to make a film with his friends, which he says enables him to stay away from some “soulless movies from directors who are too afraid to please producers and viewers.”
Asked what was the force behind his films, which have a raw and intense energy, Mr. Green says, “Everyone has a desperate need to justify their existence in the world. For me, it’s my movies [that justify my existence].
“I’m not necessarily happy,” he says. “I like this girl at home but she does not like me. Yet I consider myself lucky. I get to make the films I want to and it’s amazing to see how viewers, who are total strangers, express love and hate toward my films, which are two great things that life has to offer.”
by Chun Su-jin