Jeonju film festival opens for first time since Covid-19 pandemic

Organizers of the Jeonju International Film Festival and directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne answer questions during a press conference held at Jeonju Cine Complex in Jeonju on Thursday. [YONHAP]

JEONJU, North Jeolla — The streets of Jeonju, one of the traditional cultural hubs of Korea, saw many excited cinephiles on Thursday for the 24th Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF). Opening in full form for the first time in three years since the pandemic, this year’s JIFF promises to showcase the best Korean and international films in the independent and alternative scene.

“I came from Tokyo for the festival,” said Kentaro Kishi, a film industry insider and producer, speaking from the Jeonju Cine Complex, one of the main venues of the JIFF, located at the center of the Jeonju Film Street. “This is my first time in Jeonju, but I have been to the Busan International Film Festival before. I heard that the JIFF is second only to Busan in terms of film festivals in Korea. I look forward to meeting many industry people and perhaps getting ideas for a new film here.”

The Jeonju Cine Complex had small crowds for the screening of the opening film of JIFF: the Belgian filmmaking duo Dardenne brothers’ “Tori and Lokita.” Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne were invited especially for the 24th JIFF — the list of accolades that the duo has received so far include the Palme d’Or at the 1999 Cannes International Film Festival, a Grand Prix at the 2011 Cannes, and Golden Globe and Magritte Award nominations. This year’s JIFF marks the first time for the Dardenne brothers to come to Korea.

“We have always known of Korea as a home for great filmmakers,” Jean-Pierre said during a press conference for “Tori and Lokita” on Thursday at the Jeonju Cine Complex in central Jeonju. “It is a pleasure for us to be able to show ‘Tori and Lokita’ at Jeonju.”

"I always work together with my brother from the beginning of creating a film — it's a collaborative effort," Luc said, also during the press conference. "'Tori and Lokita' was another such result. I hope that audiences will connect with the story of the two characters and be able to befriend them."

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the Belgian filmmaking duo behind ″Tori and Lokita,″ the opening film of the 24th Jeonju International Film Festival. [JIFF]

“I think it is fitting that they are choosing to open the new JIFF with a film from such a renowned source as the Dardenne brothers,” said Lee Sung-hyun, 23, a self-proclaimed cinephile and a Jeonju native who has been coming to previous JIFFs ever since he was a high school student. “It was sad to see the JIFF fall behind because of the pandemic, which was inevitable I guess, but I hope with the new invitees this year and the efforts they are making the JIFF can get back on its feet.”

A scene from ″Tori and Lokita″ by the Dardenne brothers [JIFF]

The efforts that Lee referred to include new projects from JIFF, made on behalf of the organizers who are doing their best to revive the festival. “Street Screenings,” in which screenings are held across the city of Jeonju in small streets in an attempt to make it more approachable to viewers, “Busking in Jeonju,” where musical performances are held with open talks on films, and “Jeonju Cine X Meet,” a program through which the audience can meet directly with industry professionals, are all planned for this year’s JIFF.

And the efforts seem to be paying off.

The ticket sales for all screenings of films at the 24th JIFF reached over 70 percent between April 14 to 17, which far exceeded sales before the pandemic in 2019, according to the organizers of JIFF. How many more tickets were sold after that period has not been announced yet, but there were lines outside of the ticket boxes with people waiting to buy tickets across venues on Jeonju Film Street on the opening day, Thursday. Tickets for regular screenings cost 8,000 won ($5.90) while those for opening and closing screenings cost 20,000 won.

Tickets for “Tori and Lokita” from the Dardenne brothers were already sold out on the day that ticket sales opened, according to the organizers.

A scene from ″Where Would You Like To Go?″ the closing film of the 24th Jeonju International Film Festival. [JIFF]

“I wish they would have had more screenings of the opening film,” said Sung Joon-ho, an audience member who had come from Seoul for the festival. “I tried to get tickets to the opening screening, but they were sold out within minutes. I have read elsewhere online that a lot of people missed out on the opening screening like me.”

But Sung is not too fazed about the prospects for this year’s JIFF, despite missing the opening screening of “Tori and Lokita.”

“I came from Seoul to Jeonju because I wanted to feel the atmosphere of thousands of people gathering for a film festival,” said Sung. “That is something that all of us were denied during the pandemic. Film festivals offer cinephiles and moviegoers an entirely different experience, in my opinion. Even waiting like this outside of a ticket box to buy a ticket — when would I get to experience this if not for a festival as big as JIFF?”

The 24th JIFF runs from Thursday to May 6 across Jeonju. Screenings will be held in venues such as the Jeonbuk National University Cultural Center, the Jeonju Digital Independent Cinema, CGV Jeonjugosa and MegaBox Jeonju branches.