The Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF) will be returning for its 14th edition next month. It gets underway on April 25 with its opening film Foxfire, the new film from Laurent Canet, who was behind the 2008 Palme d'Or winner The Class and will also serve as the president of this year's international jury. JIFF will come to a close on May 3 with a screening of Haifaa Al Mansour's Wadjda, the first Saudi Arabian film to be directed by a woman.
This year's JIFF is garnering particular attention as it features a completely new staff, with new programmers and a new festival director. The previous head of programming was ignominiously fired and later other programmers followed suit in what was one of the biggest controversies in the Korean film industry last year. The dust has settled now but the new programming team is untested.
Jeonju is also famous for its commissioned omnibus features. The Jeonju Digital Project, which has featured Bong Joon-ho and Hong Sangsoo among many others in the past, will feature three new shorts from world cinema luminaries Kobayashi Masahiro (Bashing), Zhang Lu (Dooman River) and Edwin (Postcards from the Zoo).
Also, the Short! Short! Short! project for 2013, which will feature projects based on the works of the Korean novelist Kim Young-ha, will be handled by directors Lee Sang-woo (Barbie, Mother Is a Whore), Lee Jin-woo and the Park Jin-sung/Jin-seok brothers.
For those who want to unearth Jeonju's gems, the best place to look is the Korean Film Competition, a lineup of 10 new local features that generally yields some of the best-performing Korean films on the festival circuit of any given year. Last year's 13th edition was the launching ground for both Jang Kun-jae's Sleepless Night (which was my favorite Korean film of 2012) and LeeSong Hee-il's excellent queer feature White Night, which went on to play at this year's Berlinale.
This year's Korean lineup features six fiction films and four documentaries. As with previous years it's a little hard to get a sense for what to be on the lookout for as most of the films come from unknown directors. As far as I can tell the only director I recognize is Hyun-jung Lee, who revealed her debut, the experimental documentary Virgin Forest, last August at the 6th edition of the now sadly defunct Cinema Digital Seoul (CinDi) festival. I had the pleasure of meeting her and liked her energy as well as her film so I'll be looking out for this one. Regarding the rest of the lineup I can't say what might be of value but I'm sure I'll watch everything regardless.
Personally I can't wait to make it to what will be my very first edition of Jeonju. From great films to its world famous Bibimbap (a famous local dish), there's seems to be plenty to savor at this year's JIFF.