Chicago International Film Festival programmer Sam Flancher attended the 20th edition of the Jeonju International Film Festival, held May 2-11, 2019, in Jeonju, South Korea. On his return, Sam wrote the following report on his experience attending one of Asia’s largest film festivals.
The Chicago International Film Festival has always been committed to showcasing the very best in Korean cinema. Each year, Korean films are included in categories all across the Festival – from hair-raising short works like Bargain (dir. Chung-Hyun Lee, 2016) to modern classics like The Host (dir. Bong Joon-ho, 2006) to auteurist masterworks like The Handmaiden (dir. Park Chan-wook, 2016) and On the Beach at Night Alone (Hong Sang-soo, 2017).
This year, the Jeonju International Film Festival celebrated its 20th Anniversary with a nod to its illustrious history. A boisterous Opening Night featured a performance by legendary Korean film composer Mowg, setting the tone for a festival that highlighted cinematic achievements from Korea and around the globe.
The expansive program included a re-imagining of Korea’s canonical contributions to the art of film, and featured screenings of lesser-known works from throughout the country’s 100 years of film history. That’s not to say that modern Korean cinema was neglected, as the lineup also boasted a competition for Korean features in addition to its international and short film competitions.
While much of the festival showcased the cinema of the past, the Expanded Cinema section, a program of non-narrative innovations from around the world looked boldly towards the art form’s future. The program included films that explore cinema’s aesthetic possibilities, with everything from a virtual reality exhibition to a masterclass from legendary non-narrative filmmaker James Benning to a sterling selection of avant-garde short and feature-length films such as Blue (dir. Apitchatpong Weerasethakul), Altiplano (
Whether it was screening under-seen Korean work, hosting legendary filmmakers from the Festival’s past, or looking toward the future, the 20th Jeonju International Film Festival’s enthusiasm for cinema in all its forms was infectious.