"Dreaming Cinema Paradiso in Jeonju Through Producing Discourse on Films, Alley Screening."
The 22nd Jeonju International Film Festival (JEONJU IFF) is ready to meet the audience under thorough quarantine measures. JEONJU IFF held this year will welcome audiences through online and offline platforms, including theaters on the streets of Gosa-dong in Jeonju and online video services including Waave. The festival, which runs from April 29 to May 8, will show 194 films from 48 countries. In addition, there are a variety of new programs, including ‘Jeonju Conference 2021,’ which discusses major topics in the film industry, ‘J Special,’ which screens films selected by programmers of the year, and ‘Alley Screening,’ which screens films in the distinctive spaces in the region. In an interview with Lee Joondong, the festival director of the Jeonju International Film Festival, who holds it for the second time this year, let’s look into the festival for audiences and filmmakers in advance.
Q. How have you been after closing the festival last year?
A. Last year, we had to hold the film festival without the audience and hoped it could be held normally this year. However, since the situation did not improve, we prepared for all kinds of options. While preparing for both offline and online, as a government-level guideline was designed, we decided that it would be okay to hold the festival with distancing. However, since foreign guests cannot enter the country due to self-isolation for two weeks, they will be connected online and conduct GV right after the movie. In addition, a film festival needs to bring in various good films, but offline film festivals are unfeasible overseas, so we focused on the works that are checked and requested online. Especially, our programmers struggled a lot to find films for the festival.
Q. You had to prepare for the festival against the big variables, COVID-19. What do you think of the film festival last year?
A. Jeonju International Film Festival last year was the first film festival in the world since the Pandemic, and there was nothing we could refer to. So, we established principles in three tracks. First, we only screened the competition films in theaters without audiences. The judges and the officials could watch the films in theaters, while the general audience could watch them through online platforms, which was the 2nd track. The 3rd track was to have long-running screening programs. It was prepared for the audiences who wanted to watch movies in theaters and the movie officials who wanted to greet audiences in theaters. We established the 3 tracks that included non-audience screening, online screening, and long-running screening. After that, all the film festivals held in the world were a mixture of those three tracks. I think we created the first reference. Accordingly, I think the evaluation of Jeonju IFF was also good.
Q. We’d like to know more about ‘Long-running’ screenings.
A. Under any circumstances, a film has to meet audiences in theaters, and a film festival is an essential platform for movie officials and audiences to talk about movies. That’s why we tried that way, and it was received well. This year, our audiences can meet films in theaters during the festival, so there will be no long-running screenings. Instead, the online screening will be conducted as an auxiliary means of screening in theaters. To sum up, all films will be screened in theaters this year, and only some films allowed will be screened online.
Q. Before the introduction of online screening, it was predicted that directors would participate less due to security issues and concerns.
A. Last year, we also worried a lot about the matters and only about 50% of the films we had were screened online. This year, 75 to 80% of the movie officials (concerned with the films that will be screened) agreed. It means they have gained trust in the online screening of the Jeonju International Film Festival. Since they think online screening is not a problem, they respond to it more positively. In addition, the perception of online screening seems to have changed a lot under the COVID-19 crisis.
Q. You’re likely to have pressure to achieve both ‘safety’ and ‘box-office success.’
A. The number of seats is absolutely small because they are arranged more spaciously than usual and the dome screening has gone. Last year, the number of seats exceeded 80,000, and now it is about 12,000 seats, which is about a sixth. More than 90% of those seats have already been sold, so I don’t feel the pressure on the box office success. To make a safe film festival, we also reviewed and checked the quarantine measures using various simulations.
Q. You have steadily expanded access online since last year. You have been running podcasts for a year, and this time you run ‘On Air program that transmits talk events through online platforms such as YouTube, Naver V Live, and Audio Clip, encouraging the audience’s participation online.
A. We try to use the communication method actively that we developed last year. So, nothing particular is hard for us. Rather, I’d like to say how the festival this year is different from last year and which part we emphasize more. The Jeonju Film Festival would like to be in charge of producing discourse on films. Since the in-depth discussion on films has been missing because of the Pandemic, we decided to strengthen the part. Also, since the film production environment has become tough due to the COVID-19 situation, we tried to strengthen the production support although it’s not on a very large scale. Another point is that the Jeonju Film Festival should grow with Jeonju locals, so we decided to conduct ‘Alley Screening,’ which is closely related to the region. We also gave Jeonju citizens a priority to book the tickets first. Until last year, we used to have young volunteers for the film festival, but this time, 18 senior volunteers from Jeonju will participate in it. To make Jeonju IFF a festival grown by the citizens, we will give strength to the region, which is different from the last year.
Q. Is the concept ‘Alley Screening’ replacing outdoor screening?
A. Since Jeonju IFF is an alternative film festival and an experimental one, it is difficult for ordinary citizens to come to the theater, buy tickets, and enjoy the films we screen. From the perspective of Jeonju citizens, they know that there is a film festival in the city, but they may wonder what is going on in the theater. However, imagine that the lights shine in the alley while you’re walking on the street. So you go to the alley and see people have gathered up and are watching a movie there. If that happens, however hard to understand an experimental film is, the citizens will be less vigilant, and they can watch the movie comfortably. Well, you can say it’s ‘Cinema Paradiso in Jeonju.’ In that sense, we chose 3 alley screenings in the evening. Anyone in Jeonju can enjoy it comfortably while passing by.
Q. You’re participating in the Representative Talk of the Korea Film Industry during Jeonju Conference 2021 this year. Many speakers will also participate in it, including Lee Eun, the head of the Korean Film Producers Association; Cho Sungjin, the head of CJ CGV Strategic Support Team; Oh Kihwan, the director of Directors Guild of Korea; Lee Heejoo, the head of the Contents Wavve Policy Planning Office. At the conference, what matter will be discussed? (For more information, check https://project.jeonjufest.kr/project22th/conf/j-program.asp)
A. OTT seems to have been discussed too monotonously and flat. We have focused only on strengthening the competitiveness of global OTT and native OTT. Starting with asking about the future of the film industry, we can discuss the OTT matter in many layers. In particular, independent films have become more acceptable on the OTT side. We want to discuss so many issues and talk about various layers of stories, including the ‘flat’ contract issue, where a movie cannot be screened in theaters and goes to OTT right away, giving up all rights to it at a certain amount of money. Plenty of programs are arranged throughout the day, and at the end of the day, the policy officials, lawmakers, and officials in charge of the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism will join us and think about how to accept those issues politically. We will not end it as a discourse but consider how it will end up on a policy basis.
Q. How do you feel about the festival that’ll be open this year?
A. I'm half looking forward to it and half worrying about it. Our programmers and staff members have worked so hard. Also, filmmakers will meet each other in the space of the film festival after a long interval, and they must have high expectations, too. In addition, the audience will expect a lot as it is an opportunity to meet filmmakers. So, we must try our best to make the festival safe, and we’re strengthening our resolution to make it happen.