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Korea Ferry Disaster is Cloud Over Jeonju Festival Opening

More emphasis on films than festivities, but acrimonies remain close to the surface

JEONJU, South Korea – The recent ferry disaster has severely crimped the lighter side of the Jeonju International Film Festival (May 1-10, 2014).

The event got off without a red carpet ceremony, and all parties and side-bar events through the week have been cancelled.

Organizers, trying to put on a brave face, say there is a new emphasis on film and less concern with festivities.

“It has always been our goal to put the focus on cinema. I don’t think the current mood of Korea has affected the event negatively,” said Kim Young-jin, head programmer and one of Korea’s renowned critics. “Rather, I expect it will help put the focus back on film. If that happens, no one can say we were wholly unlucky this year.”

But the JIFF management is not having an easy ride.

A dramatic change of leadership two years ago met with a barrage of criticism from the local press, though the backlash had more to do with loyalty to the previous organizers rather than the incoming team’s ability. Last year the organizers cut a press event for local film journalists, arguing that it was irrelevant. But the press took it as a slight and, despite the current chastened national atmosphere, the bitterness continues. That was evidenced in the shape of many overtly negative comments and questions at the opening press conference.

Trying to inject a somewhat more commercial tone into the otherwise indie festival, organizers had prior to the Sewol sinking, selected a 3-D omnibus “Mad Sad Bad” as opening film. It is directed by big names Ryu Seung-wan (“Crying Fist”) and Kim Tae-yong (“Late Autumn”) and Han Ji-seung.

Despite tickets for the movie selling out in two minutes, JIFF organizers were forced to publicly apologise for the film’s light-hearted tone.

If that was not bad enough the festival is suffering a de facto talent boycott. Jeonju organizers told Variety that talent agencies have refused to allow their clients to attend for fear that positive publicity at a time of national mourning would spark public criticism in the press and on social media.

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