▲ Shaman Suh Sun Sil discussing Jeju shamanism with an audience member. Photo courtesy Jeju Women's Association
"And She Still Sings!" Indeed.
The 15th annual Jeju Women's Film Festival, held September 24-28 at Jeju Movie Culture Art Center, was by any measure a resounding success.
The festival was organized by Jeju Women's Association under the guidance of Artspace C gallery owner Ahn Hye-kyoung and supported by the Women's Division of Jeju Pro-vincial Government.
Included were 36 films whose directors represented 14 countries, including Bosnia, Egypt, Poland, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Korea, US, and more. While female directors were given priority, male directors were also included.
Films were chosen by the festival film selection committee, which obtained recommendations from a variety of sources based on a broad range of subjects related to women's welfare, traditions, and empower-ment.
Following a screening and evaluation process, the committee then invited selected established directors to show their films. In a parallel process, an open category competition was held for new female directors, from which four were selected. This year's open competition saw 58 entries.
Due to its local subject matter, an exception to the selection criteria was made this year for "Spirits: The Story of Jeju Island's Shamanic Shrines," and an invitation to participate was also extended to Jeju-based American Giuseppe "Joey" Rositano, a first-time filmmaker.
The opening ceremony, at which French film "The Dandelions" was shown, saw a packed house. Attendance remained strong throughout the festival, for which a double schedule was maintained on two screens.
▲ Glittering Hands director Lee Kil-bora with moderator, in dialogue with the audience. Photo courtesy Jeju Women's Association
Films were generally of high quality, representing genre such as drama, comedy, documentary, animation, short, and commercial as well as independent. Of particular note were "For Those Who Can Tell No Tales," a Bosnian drama of Balkan war crimes in Srebrenica, directed by Jasmila Žbanić; "Papusza," the tale of Polish-Gypsy poet and singer Bronislawa Wajs, by Joanna Kos and Krzysztof Krauze; "Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits," a docu-drama on the life of Korea's famed shaman Kim Keum-hwa, the director for which was Park Chan-kyong, brother of "Old Boy" trilogy director Park Chan-wook; and, "Glittering Hands," a documentary directed by Lee Kil-bora on the very personal topic of her childhood with two hearing-impaired parents.
Lee, who has exhibited her film in a few other settings and who held a Director Q&A session following its well-attended showing here, told festival organizers that Jeju was her best experience thus far in terms of audience response to the film and participation in the ensuing discussion.
Other significant works included "The Dandelions," a French drama in which a young girl must face a significant loss; "Wadjda," a look into the restricted life of Saudi women and a girl who challenges this system; "Herstory," a Korean animation regarding the historical, and controversial, 'comfort women' (military sex slave) topic; "The Invisible War," a documentary on rape of female soldiers in the US military; and "Blue is the Warmest Color," a French drama on the theme of homosexuality, among others.
The films represented a wide array of women's issues from a variety of cultures, and while the several commercial films seemed somewhat out of place in a film festival, the selection overall was comprehensive and represented timely concerns. The organizers are to be particularly commended for their courage in including several controversial topics.
▲ The 15th Jeju Women's Film Festival logo. Image courtesy Jeju Women's Association
"Spirits," the documentary on Jeju shamanism, proved somewhat disappointing. While the novice director is to be commended for his efforts as well as his sincere interest in his subject matter, the film did not seem ready for showing in the festival and could have benefitted from additional work on its technical aspects, storyline, and accuracy of material.
The Director Q&A following the second showing of "Spirits" also saw the par-ticipation of Jeju Grand Shaman Suh Sun Sil, whose presence brought a level of expertise to the subject matter. Audience members, including Kang Yun-hyung, wife of Jeju governor Won Hee-ryong, asked a variety of keen questions such as, "When trekking Jeju Olle trails and coming upon a shrine, how should we be most respectful?" (Do not touch anything nor leave anything behind; the gods will recognize your good intentions, answered Shaman Suh) and, "With all the development on Jeju these days — are the gods angry?" (Suh's reply: The gods are not angry — yet).
This year's film festival saw several changes: the venue was a proper theatre with two screens, rather than a performance hall as in the past; there was a focus on sexual abuse issues, and the support of another feminist group, Jeju Women's Rights Association, which held a seminar on this topic at an adjacent venue; and, the audience was more varied than in previous years, with increased attendance by elders, males, and foreigners.
Next year, the organizers hope to have even more attendance by men and by the foreign community; they also anticipate government support moving from the Women's Division to that of Arts and Culture. They would like to begin a program for directly assisting new female filmmakers by next year, and also hope for additional financial backing from the government, as their resources are quite limited.
In the closing ceremony, festival director Ahn Hye-kyoung told the large audience that holding this film with only a small number of organizers was "like running a 200-meter dash in 100 meters."
All in all, this Herculean task was mana-ged admirably.
Dr. Hilty is a cultural psychologist from New York and an Honorary Ambassador for Jeju Island, who has written numerous works on the topic of Jeju.
Images from the 15th Jeju Women's Film Festival. Photos courtesy Jeju Women's Association
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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