PANG Eun-jin, Director of the PyeongChang International Peace Film Festival
Aug 12, 2019
- Writerby SONG Soon-jin
“We will use peace to thaw the tough topics of the world.”
The 1st PyeongChang International Peace Film Festival (PIPFF) will run from August 16 to 20 in and around the city of Gangneung, PyeongChang County, in the Province of Gangwondo. The event is being supervised by President MOON Sung-keun, actor and son of the late pro-unification activist Rev. MOON Ik-hwan, and Director PANG Eun-jin, an actress, film director and current head of the Gangwon Film Commission. Under the slogan “Beyond Line, Become One Toward Peace”, the festival led by the two film professionals is revolving around three keywords, namely inter-Korean, peace and PyeongChang. A year may sound short, but PANG Eun-jin pulled out all the stops to organize this international film festival within such a short time and to give a concrete shape to the first film festival highlighting both Koreas. KoBiz had the chance to sit down with Director PANG.
First, I would like to emphasize how unique it is for a film festival to focus on both Koreas, peace and PyeongChang. The most notable thing is that it going to serve as an interface to North Korean cinema. I understand that you have put a lot of effort to get in touch with people from the North Korean film industry. What kind of issues have you been dealing with?
Having agreed to be in charge of the festival, the very first thing I did was consulting Busan International Film Festival President LEE Yong-kwan, and here is what he told me: “Use the symbolism of the PyeongChang Olympics – peace – as a stepping stone, and put enough emphasis on creating an interface with North Korean cinema to warrant the “inter-Korean” in the name of the festival (the Korean name of the festival being “PyeongChang Inter-Korean Peace Film Festival”, ed.). North Korean films can be screened in other film festivals, but PIPFF is the only film festival that can invite a large number of people.” So, right from the start, we made use of the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Fund provided by the Province of Gangwon to make human exchange our main focus, for instance by bringing South Korean film professionals to the Kumgang Mountains (north of the border) for the closing ceremony or inviting North Korean film professionals. However, we came to the conclusion that these ideas are not possible as of now, and in more ways than one. The American sanctions on North Korea having not been lifted, we cannot secure the screening rights or proceed with human exchanges through official means. That’s because all financial transactions are blocked. And also, North Korea’s film production is not as active as it used to be.
Even animation films with anthropomorphic animals, which used to be thriving in North Korea under the KIM Jong-un administration, are now said to have had an output of only one or two titles per year during the last 3 or 4 years. There was also the fact that North Korean film representatives had agreed to participate to a forum for the 100th anniversary of Korean cinema at the Free University of Berlin during this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, but didn’t show up. We have tried to contact them in many different ways like this but couldn’t produce results this year. However, we have been constantly informing the North of the existence of our film festival and communicated our wishes. What we told them is that we want to invite recent titles and film directors, and also, since so many want to ask them to share the films stored in the “National Movie Document Library” created by KIM Jong-il or shoot on location in North Korea, executives who could explain the procedures. Even though these requests were not answered, North Korea’s stand has changed a little with the 2007 North-South Summit Declaration. Not only did they ask us where we heard that LEE Man-hee’s Full Autumn (1966) and NA Wun-kyu’s Arirang (Part 3) (1936) were in North Korea (both films have been lost in the South, ed.), but we are also getting feedback from them, we know they are following the news about PIPFF. We can at least say that they are fully aware of our requests.
A lot of things happened since you started working on the festival. The April 2018 inter-Korean summit was quickly followed by the North Korea-United States Singapore Summit, and then the rupture of negotiations in Hanoi. How did you feel about these events as an organizer of this festival?
To put if briefly, my mind was on a rollercoaster. (laughs) When we first decided to create the festival, the PyeongChang Olympics were just starting to be known around the world as the Peace Olympics. And then, when we were well into the preparations for the festival, the inter-Korean summit took place. We too were extremely encouraged as it was a time when the mood of reconciliation was at its maximum. Later, we cooled down at the sight of the North Korea-US negotiations in Hanoi. We even had regrets as we considered we might have gotten too far ahead of ourselves. To cut a long story short, we decided not to bite off more than we can chew and do the best we can in the moment, since there is no way to predict how things will turn out the next day.
Despite all these difficulties, you are presenting five North Korean movies including the opening film Birds (1992), three European films shot in North Korea, as well as the exhibition named “North Korean sceneries seen through VR”.
We set the criterion for our film festival that the North Korean films we present must be done so through official and legal channels. Fortunately, we were able to buy the rights to the opening film Birds (1992) in Japan since the film was financed there, and we have maintained this standard for titles likes Empress Chung (2005), the first North-South Korea co-produced animation film, and Meet in Pyongyang (2012), a North Korea-China co-production. And in the case of the VR film, we began working on it upon watching the VR videos on North Korea that Singapore-based photographer Aram PAN uploaded on YouTube. Right from the start, we thought it was of the utmost importance that we create a system of exhibition for North Korean films that is unquestionably official. Now that KOFIC has set up a single contact window via the creation of the Inter-Korean Film Exchange Special Committee, the procedure will be a bit more efficient. I hope that our film festival will become a place where you can formally be introduced to North Korean films.
There are other films that also deserve our attention beside those revolving around North Korea. I’m thinking notably of the thematic section on refugees, the retrospective on genre films about the Division, a competition of South Korean films about peace, and the spectrum section.
When I was having a tough time due to the circumstances, programmers CHOI Eun-young and KIM Hyung-seok maintained their balance and paid attention to bring the selection to a level on par with international film festivals. In creating a new master copy of the opening film Birds (1992), we tried to raise its quality by drastically improving the picture and the sound. I also intend to watch all of the 85 selected films if possible, but I can already say with confidence that almost all the films I’ve watched so far are first-rate. The titles we brought back from Cannes and Berlin deserve to be mentioned too, including the South Korean film Let Us Meet Now which was produced with the support of the Ministry of Unification. Personally speaking, the one that made the strongest impression on me is Korea, A Hundred Years of War, in which French director Pierre-Olivier FRANCOIS interviews high ranking officials from both North and South Korea.
How does the main theme of the PIPFF – peace – set it apart from other film festivals?
There are so many film festivals in South Korea that use peace as their theme. As a result, “peace” is a keyword that sounds extremely familiar, yet it somehow gives the feeling that the films shown in festivals are boring. That’s why, on our first meeting, we talked about how nice it would be for the festival to expand our understanding of peace. The thematic section ‘POV: Refugee on Earth’ we are presenting this year actually came about following these discussions. We are striving to make PIPFF a festival that will have a peaceful take on the sharp conflicts of the time with each edition.