By Areum Jeong.
In 2019, the Seoul PRIDE Film Festival, founded in 2011, became an accredited international film festival. The festival took place from November 7 to 13 at CGV Myeong-dong Station Cine Library, where 100 films from 33 countries were screened. The film festival opened with Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) and closed with three Korean short films – Going My Home (2019) directed by Jong-hun Shin, ICE (2019) directed by Seong-wuk Lee, and Kiss Kiss (2019) directed by Jun-mun So. These shorts are selected works of the Pride Film Project – SIPFF’s production support project which supports Korean filmmakers and the Korea’s queer film industry.
The festival also created an Asian Features Competition and a Korean Shorts Competition. For the former, Tony Rayns, Raymond Phathanavirangoon, and Ju-yeon Bae were judges, and awarded Lisa Zi Xiang the Best Feature Film Award for A Dog Barking at the Moon (2019). The judges for the Korean Shorts Competition were Kyeong-tae Kim, Ji-yeon Kim, and Jun-mun So. Their choice for the Best Short Film was Mother-in-Law (2019) directed by Seung-eun Shin.
In addition, the festival published The History of Korean Queer Films Sourcebook to celebrate the centennial of Korean cinema and to document the history of Korean queer films. This valuable 250-page volume contains essays defining Korean queer cinema, information and reviews on Korean queer films from 1965, and interviews with queer Korean filmmakers. An English translation of the sourcebook will be completed soon.
Festival director KIM JHO Gwang-soo and programmer Dave KIM are credited with the festival’s success. The couple is well known in South Korea for their LGBT activism and for their public wedding in 2013. Because marriage equality is not legal in Korea and anti-LGBT prejudice is still widespread, their activism, which includes running the film festival and Sinnaneun Center – South Korea’s first nonprofit organization that promotes LGBT arts and culture – is extremely valuable.
KIM JHO, head of Generation Blue Films, has produced more than ten feature films, such as Wanee and Junah (2001), Jealousy Is My Middle Name (2003), No Regret (2006), Old Miss Diary (2006), the Detective K series (2011, 2015, 2018). He has also written and directed three shorts – Boy Meets Boy (2008), Just Friends? (2009), and Love is 100C (2010) – and the feature film Two Weddings and a Funeral (2012). In addition to his work in the film industry, KIM JHO chairs the Justice Party’s anti-discrimination legislation preparation committee.
On January 21, 2020, I interviewed KIM JHO Gwang-soo and Dave KIM to discuss the film festival, Korean queer films, and LGBT activism. The interview was conducted in Korean.
Congratulations on SIPFF becoming an international film festival! Can you talk about your efforts and what it means to you?
KJGS: When we first started, we wanted to organize a film festival in Korea that was dedicated to queer films. Although some queer films have been shown in Korea, and although there were big, well-established film festivals such as BIFF and JIFF and BiFan, Korea didn’t have its own queer film festival.
When we had the first film festival in 2011, it showed only 23 films in a single venue. It was more of a screening than a festival, and it was focused on U.S. and Korean films. As the years went by, we increased the number and diversity of the films. We also wanted to increase the number of Korean films. But as you know, making a queer feature film in Korea can be very difficult. I thought about what I could do to increase the number of Korean films and decided to create the Pride Film Project, a production support program.
And I wanted to serve the audience well – not just the audiences that like queer films, but also audiences that like film in general. So in 2018, we had a meeting with the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) and convinced them to support small film festivals like ours. I think this was one of the benefits of Korea’s candlelight revolution. If the Park Geun-hye administration were still here, we couldn’t even have tried with KOFIC. But when the new government came in, there were some people at KOFIC we could talk to.
Also, in 2015 we created the Asia Pacific Queer Film Festival Alliance (www.apqffa.org) with Hong Kong, Japan, and Taiwan. This alliance motivated us to make the film festival into an international one.
DK: So one thing led to another – we increased the number and diversity of films, created new programs and sections, increased the number of overseas guests, and that resulted in an international film festival.
In 2019, the festival screened 100 films from 33 countries, and created two new competition sections—the Asian Features Competition and Korean Shorts Competition.
KJGS: For the competition section, we focused on Asia – not only because we are in Asia, but also because we have a very limited budget and it would be difficult to invite guests from outside of Asia. And because more queer short films are getting made than feature films, we created a Korean Shorts Competition.
To judge the Asian Features Competition, we invited British critic and film festival programmer Tony Rayns, who has written much about Korean queer films and whose work influenced me personally. He diligently participated in all festival events from the opening ceremony to the closing ceremony and was very gracious.
DK: And because of our limited budget, he even agreed to only partial travel reimbursement. We are so grateful to him.
KJGS: I think it was because he is truly interested in Korean queer films. He enjoyed the festival programming as well.
DK: We also published The History of Korean Queer Films Sourcebook, which will have an English version soon, and Rayns agreed to write a blurb for it.
In addition to Rayns, the other judges for the competition were Raymond Phathanavirangoon and Ju-yeon Bae. We were very fortunate to have a diverse group judges. And the film that won the Best Feature Film Award was directed by a Chinese filmmaker – I think this is quite significant since marriage equality is illegal in China and queer feature films hardly get made there.
KJGS: We were so worried because it was our first year as an international film festival, but everything went smoothly.
Besides the film festival, you were involved in many other projects such as the Sinnaneun Center’s first Pride Gala, which took place on May 17, 2019, and the Pride Fair, which took place on November 2-3, 2019.
DK: About ten years ago, I visited the New York LGBT Expo, which was kind of a mix between an exposition and market. Previously, it had been really hard for our film festival to get sponsorship and I thought about how to change this. I thought there should be a meeting place for sexual minorities to get together and showcase what they do.
Coincidentally, Korea saw a flea market boom during that time, and the Pride Fair grew with the flea market culture. In 2019, I wanted the Fair to go beyond the flea market image, so I created more programs, encouraged more teams to participate, and worked harder on PR. In 2019, 90 teams participated which was double the previous year’s number. The number of visitors increased greatly, too. This year, I would like to add more programs and maybe have some free screenings. My ultimate goal is to create something like the NY Expo. My current goal is to create a festival where people can hang out all day. Unlike a Pride Parade, it won’t be political. But when it occurs frequently, it could have a political effect.
Can you talk about the current trend in Korean queer films?
KJGS: Previously, most queer films in Korea were about gay men. But now, films about lesbians are the majority. And regardless of their sexual orientation, women are the majority of the moviegoing audience nowadays. So there are more and more queer films with female characters for female audiences on the market today. And regardless of the director’s sexual orientation there are more and more films about our experiences and about what we know. For example, some would say that the House of Hummingbird (2018) is a lesbian film and others would disagree, but the fact that such films are getting made is a big change in Korean film. I would say Korean queer films have expanded.
DK: Yes, what used to define Korean queer films has expanded. And previously, most of the films were melodramas, but today there are more films about family and work.
KJGS: The number of female directors on the Korean indie film scene has increased and they also receive much more attention.
DK: And women are 90% of the arthouse and indie film audience. So the market is targeting female audiences more than ever and that also seems to affect queer films.
KJGS: And Korea has seen a resurgence of the #MeToo movement, so that seems to have affected it as well.
What are your top five favorite Korean queer films?
KJGS: King and the Clown (2005), Memento Mori (1999), Wanee and Junha (2001), Jane (2016), and Bleak Night (2011).
DK: Yes, definitely Wanee and Junha. If I were to choose the top five Korean queer films that are well-made or do a good job representing Korean society, I would choose Sa Bangji (1988), All for Love (2005), Two Weddings and a Funeral (2012), Our Love Story (2016), and the Bacchus Lady (2016).
Areum Jeong is Assistant Professor in Humanities at Sichuan University-Pittsburgh Institute. She holds a PhD in Performance Studies from UCLA and her work takes a transnational approach to Korean film, literature, theater and performance.
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