A film festival bowed, but still quite bloody
The 10th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, which opened yesterday after 12 months of bureaucratic hurdles between the city government and the programmers, has gotten less edgy, but more “delicate,” in the words of the festival’s new organizers.
Evident changes have been made to the festival’s programming this year to suit the taste of a broader audience base.
The festival, which had typically featured “B movies” for cult enthusiasts, shifted gears this year, to focus on the theme of “love,” with the poster advertising the event featuring the subdued images of an angelic man and woman. The festival’s special features section includes segments and workshop sessions related to big-budget, widely renowned films and companies with both mainstream and non-mainstream merits, including “Everyday Workshop” led by New Zealand’s WETA Workshop team, responsible for the special effects for films such as Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “King Kong,” and Disney’s “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
There will also be an “Audrey Hepburn Retrospective” featuring the films the actress was famous for, such as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “My Fair Lady” and “Roman Holiday.”
The Puchon festival has had a tumultuous year. It started when the city mayor dismissed its former chairman, Kim Hong-jun, and its programmers for allegedly failing to include family-oriented films instead of the gory cult films it was known for. The incident was considered outrageous by those in the Korean film industry, and a sign that bureaucracy still dictates major cultural events funded by the government.
The news was followed by a series of protests by prominent directors, actors and film industry insiders.
Then in April last year, three months prior to the festival’s opening, a group of former PiFan staffers mobilized an alternative festival, the “Real Fantastic Film Festival (otherwise called “Rifan”), which advertised that it chose its films according to “freedom of expression, not politics.” The substitute was much smaller than the original, however, with a budget about 10 percent that of PiFan’s.
Resentment over the layoffs still runs thick within the industry.
Last month, a number of film industry associations signed a petition, insisting that “they will take proper actions if the committee continues to interfere with the independent spirit of the festival’s programming.”
Perhaps as a response, Lee Jang-ho, the festival’s new chairman, sent a letter to the reporters a day before the press conference last month, explaining that it would completely reorganize the festival committee responsible for dismissing last year’s staff members, essentially admitting the city government’s errors.
Water under the bridge? Maybe. Amid this political and organizational chaos, the festival’s backers still hold out hope for growth. This year’s festival will showcase a total of 251 films from 35 different countries ― 150 full-length features and 101 short films. When asked about the theme of this year’s festival during the first press conference on June 20, Lee Jang-ho said, “PiFan’s theme had always been ‘Love, Fantasy and Adventure.’ We intend to retain this theme throughout the festival’s preexisting segments, but also to broaden our scope with new programs.”
For this year’s Puchon Choice Feature, there will be a total of 10 films, including the Korean horror film “Apartment” by Ahn Byeong-gi, the Japanese film “Noriko’s Dinner Table” by the director of “Suicide Club,” Shion Sona, and “Frostbite,” which the festival’s promotional material claims is “Sweden’s first vampire film.”
Another special feature is the “Italian Horror Gala,” which will showcase films by one of the most important directors of the Italian horror genre, Mario Bava, often referred to as the “Godfather of Italian horror films.” The films of Lamberto Bava, the son of Mario Bava, who reinvigorated the genre with a modern approach, will also be shown in the section.
Along with these annual programs, there will be nine special programs newly designed for this summer. One will be a retrospective exhibition of late Korean director Shin Sang-ok, who passed away this April. The segment was created to commemorate the director’s contributions to Korean cinema. Also, a Shin Sang-ok Film Award will be given for the first time, with donations by Cinema Service, a major distributor and producer, and will be conducted in two categories: the “Beautiful Predecessor Film Maker Award” and the “Beautiful Junior Film Maker Award,” which are both intended to be awarded to newcomers to filmmaking.
In the end, the melancholy, urban setting of Hong Kong director’s Pang Ho-cheung’s “Isabella” will draw the curtains down for the end of this year’s festival on July 22.
by Park Soo-mee, Cho Jae-eun