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Jeonju Film Festival Successfully Closes 2nd Pandemic Era Edition

May 11, 2021
  • Writerby Pierce Conran
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The Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF) was the first major film event last year to take place during the pandemic and has now become the first event to stage two editions during the global health crisis. Yet despite the difficulties posed by current social distancing regulations, the festival was able to regain much of its spark, with sell out crowds enjoying the program’s rich variety of local and foreign independent works.


The 22nd edition of the festival opened its doors on April 29 with the film Father from Serbian filmmaker Srdan GOLUBOVIĆ and screened a total of 194 films from 48 counties over the next ten days, both in theaters in Jeonju and online through the local streaming operator wavve, which service the vast major of the program. The festival wrapped up on May 8 with a screening of the closing film Josep, an animated feature from the French director Aurel.


Though several restrictions were in place to ensure the safety of patrons, the big change with last year’s edition was that the festival was once again able to welcome the public through its doors. The 21st edition took place so early in the pandemic that protocols for large-scale events were not yet in place, leading to a scaled down event that was only open to a limited number of professionals from the film industry.


In spring 2021, much of JIFF’s indie spirit returned in the event that was unspooled under the slogan ‘Film Goes On’. Viewers were clearly very happy to return to the festival, with the attendance rate reaching 93% over the course of the festival as many screenings sold out. A total of 19,590 people participated in the festival this spring, with just under half of that number, 9,180, doing so through the festival’s online portal.


Viewers enjoyed many of the films in the festival’s varied program but only a few had the distinction of being awarded prizes from the event's three main competition section: the ‘International Competition’, the ‘Korean Competition’ and the ‘Korean Competition for Shorts’. Reflecting the social diversity of the program, many of the prize winners were documentary films and/or films directed by women. Also among the prize winners was an LGTBQ-themed work.


The Grand Prize, worth KRW 20 million (USD 18,000), in the International Competition went to the Argentinian documentary Splinters from director Natalia GARAYALDE, while the Best Picture Prize (Sponsored by NHNonghyup) went to the Serbian documentary Landscape of Resistance from Marta POPIVODA, and the Special Jury Prize was won by James VAUGHAN’s Australian black comedy Friends and Strangers.




The Grand Prize in the Korean Competition, which came with KRW 15 million (USD 13,500) in prize money, was won by Kim Min-young of the Report Card, from directors LEE Jae-eun and LIM Ji-sun. The Best Actor prizes were earned by JEONG Jae-kwang of NOT OUT and GONG Seung-yeon for AlonersNOT OUT, from director LEE Jong-gon, earned two additional prizes, the CGV Arthouse Award: Creative Support Award and the Watcha’s Pick: Feature prize. Aloners was also a multiple award winner, earning director HONG Sung-eun the CGV Arthouse Award: Distribution Support Award. Finally, Director BYUN Gyu-ri received a Special Mention for Coming to you.


In the Korean Competition for Shorts, the Grand Prize went to CHOI Min-young’s Vacation Event while PARK Jae-hyun won the Best Director Prize (Sponsored by Kyobo Life Insurance) for Without You. There were also three special awards: the Documentary Award (Sponsored by Jin Motors) which went to Coming to You, a J Vision Award split between LEE Ji-hyang for Teacher’s Day and HUH Gun for Out of Season, and finally the NETPAC Award, which was bestowed upon JAZZ KISSA BASIE from Japanese filmmaker HOSHINO Tetsuya. 


The 2020 edition of JIFF was only open to the directors of the local films in the program and the jury members of the competition sections, all of whom were locally based. Owing to an abundance of caution, both the general public and the vast majority of media were not able to attend for the first time in the festival’s history, but they were welcomed back for this year’s edition.


Nevertheless, with Covid-19 case numbers still at elevated levels in Korea, a number of restrictions were put in place to ensure the safety of the viewing public. All theater patrons had to wear masks, consent to temperature checks and check-in through a QR code system. Furthermore, cinema capacity was limited to 33%, similar to other festivals and lower than the more lenient capacity rates currently employed for commercial screenings in multiplexes.


As ever, among the most notable works on display this year at the festival were its signature Jeonju Cinema Projects. For the 22nd edition, the films on show were HUG, the latest documentary by award-winning filmmaker by IM Heung-soon, MIN Hwan-ki’s and The Man with High Hopes, another Korean documentary, and Outside Noise by the American cineaste Ted FENDT.



Running concurrently with the festival was the 13th edition of Jeonju Project, JIFF’s industry event, and after three busy days which featured 237 pitch meetings between May 2 and 4, the Jeonju Project Awards took place on the evening of the 4th. Three fiction projects earned the Jeonju Lab 2021 Award, which were CHA Jeong-yoon’s About My Daughter, YUN Sim-kyoung’s A Smiling Woman and LEE Won-sik’s The Faceless Man. The documentary project The Eyeglasses from KO Du-hyun and LEE Young-mi’s Deserve to Be Loved won the JICA Award (sponsored by the Jeonju IT&CT Industry Promotion Agency), among other prizes. Beyond pitch sessions, the market also included a roundtable discussion about editing for documentary films.


While JIFF was held safely and successfully, despite the stringent prevention measures in place the festival reported a Covid-19 case toward the end of the week when a festival volunteer contracted Covid-19 after coming into contact with an infected visitor who attended the festival in early May. All staff members were immediately tested and not found to be infected, while the seven volunteers who had been in immediate contact with the infected volunteer went into self-isolation. The festival further responded by making its closing press conference an online event and limited the size of its closing ceremony, while also offering refunds for the ticket holders to the last few offline screenings to take place during this year’s edition. JIFF also mandated that all staff use latex gloves.


Following a successful 22nd edition, the Jeonju International Film Festival will look forward to soaring to greater heights when it returns once again next spring.


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