CHUNG Woo-chung, Director of the Seoul International Food Film Festival
Oct 23, 2018
- Writerby SONG Soon-jin
“We want to introduce the unique delights of our festival.”
The 4th Seoul International Food Film Festival (SIFFF), which will kick off on October 25, is an event with a new concept never seen before in Korea. The reason cannot be found in the active support this small film festival receives from corporations and local governments but in its planning and its ideas. Film programmer and film journalists played a key role in the introduction of films about food, and the Seoul International Food Film Festival, with the variety of food and events it offers, followed the boom in Korea for food content. We met CHUNG Woo-chung, the director of the festival who claims that there is too much he wants to do for the festival, to learn more about the Seoul International Food Film Festival.
Before we get into the questions regarding the festival itself, could you please introduce yourself? I’ve heard that you have been working at several film festivals for quite some time.
You could say I’m part of the first generation of film festivals. After a few stints as a staff member of the Seoul International Women’s Film Festival (SIWFF) and the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), it was with the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN), which started in 1997, that I really started working as a film festival programmer. I also had extensive experience working at good festivals like the Jecheon International Music & Film Festival (JIMFF) and the DMZ International Documentary Film Festival (DMZ DOCS). However, I also had the idea of making movies myself and not get stuck in the role of putting the spotlight on others’ works. I founded the film company Metaplay and began producing, purchasing and distributing movies as well as organizing festivals, but with all that experience in film festivals, I was often put in charge of the planning or promotion of film festivals. And in 2015, we thought it was time to try creating the film festival we had always wanted to make, and so the Seoul International Food Film Festival came to be.
When you launched the festival, the audience response was incredible. I would like to know how you developed the film festival into what it has now become.
Actually, I had started working on the idea of a food film festival long before, but when I saw the massive boom in ‘mukbang’ (live broadcasts of people eating) and ‘cookbang’ (live broadcasts of people cooking and eating) back in 2015, I thought I couldn’t wait any longer. That’s why we held the first edition at Metaplay, and as we had various events centered on well-known food films with the concept of “eating the food from the film”, the public response was incredible. However, we realized once the festivities were over that there was no way we could turn it into a profitable festival with that response and the ticket sales alone. We established a corporation and took the necessary steps to make it grow into an international event. And so, for the 2nd edition, we ran the festival under the name of our corporation, in the Megabox multiplex in COEX Mall, in Gangnam. As we tried different things, such as a special program called “The Year of France” for the 130th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between France and Korea, as well as large and small parties, the festival has considerably grown in size. As it is, there is still some side effects from that. (laughs) I thought it would be better with the bigger rooms of a multiplex, but it hadn’t occurred to me that since our main audience prefers arthouse films, they wouldn’t enjoy a film festival held in a multiplex. That’s the reason why for the third edition we moved again to the arthouse cinema Art Nine, and a small grant from the City of Seoul helped us ensure our internal stability. We could say we firmly paid the tuition fees for the second edition and we have realigned our direction with the third edition. And so, with this fourth edition, we are taking every new step properly. This year, for the second consecutive time, we have received a grant from the City, and even received some support from the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) for the promotion of international film festivals. Even though the festival is comprised of people with a lot of experience in the field, I think we are not done learning, we are still experimenting this and that.
Even though you are showing food films, you are also taking the opportunity to address diverse sociopolitical issues relative to food.
I think this is the driving force behind the festival. I must admit, I used to hear that, as a film festival, it lacked personality, or that it was nothing but a food festival. Let me say it clearly: it is a film festival that presents stories about food through films. All of our core team members have studied films. (laughs) That’s why we are considering expanding again our categories in the future. These could include not only stories about food, but also films in which food has a central role or becomes determinant in the resolution. We could even present stories about healthier ingredients and the food industry as we grow old, or the correlation between poverty and mass production. We also have visitors who are not interested in meeting star chefs and come to the festival to watch movies. In that respect, we wish to create a strong identity through the definition of the theme of the festival.
Is there something else you would like to try in the future with the Seoul International Food Film Festival?
We would like to slowly and steadily establish an indie spirit. Now, we not only introduce food films to the audience, we also acquire foreign films (when they are not released in Korea) and have been constantly testing regional community screenings. We organized screenings in collaboration with the Women’s Organization of North Chungcheong Province, Hyundai Department Stores and the “Han Rive Under the Bridge Film Festival”, for instance. On top of that, we would also like to venture into the production of food films. Just like the Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF) and others that are themselves producing movies, we would like to produce proper food films about Korea. I would love to allow food films to be made. Our film festival could also take on the role of seed money or allow meetings with investors. I’ve long had this idea in mind, but I hope we can produce a film, even a short one, sometime next year. On the other hand, I’m still at odds with the idea of wanting to make it grow into a giant event. Although film festivals feel the pressure of reaching a certain scale if they intend to receive the public support they need, my dream is a small film festival that is profitable. There are in some regions of the world small film festivals that have been running for 30-40 years. It’s not only the will of the individuals who are part of the organizing teams who maintain such festivals, but also the support from companies and associations. I envy them.