“The world is wide and there are many things to accomplish”
Jeon Yang-jun (Jay Jeon) is one of the founders of the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF, previously Pusan International Film Festival, PIFF). He has served in diverse offices of the BIFF including the position of its director from 2018 to 2016. He has participated in many international film festivals as a jury member. He also produced masterpieces of Korean cinema such as Peppermint Candy and Oasis directed by Lee Chang-dong, receiving many prizes including a culture merit medal from the South Korean government (2005), another medal from the Czech Republic (2011), an achievement award at the Florence Korea Film Fest (2014), and an honorary golden cyclo award at the Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinema (2020). He has written many books such as 10001 Nights at the Movies published recently. He has played a pivotal role in developing the Korean film industry up to the international level despite many difficult situations. — Ed
A: I founded the BIFF and served as its director. I was also the producer of the movie Peppermint Candy directed by Lee Chang-dong, a prominent masterpiece in the Korean film industry. Throughout my life, I have tried whatever I can do for the development of our film industry, accomplishing my wishes in the diverse sectors in the BIFF and other international film festivals.
Q: As director of the BIFF, what do you think about its status in the international film market?
A: The BIFF is largely acknowledged as one of the international events, significantly spurring progress of the Asian film industry with its activated film productions. Actually, the BIFF was selected as the most renowned festival in Asia by TIME Magazine and accredited as one of the six most prestigious film festivals in the world. With the support of Busan Metropolitan City serving as an international hub of the film industry, the BIFF has mostly established its singularity through presentation of excellent productions and witnessed its value elevated one more level with the attendance of talented film personalities such as actors, directors, and many fans interested in the films.
Q: We heard that you have had some difficulties in the process of preparing for the global entry of the BIFF. What were the threats or obstacles that you have confronted in the process?
A: Well, yes. One of the barriers that was tough to get over was film censorship and political legitimation in the 1970s Korean political situation. Movies with content deemed as detrimental to the then government were generally blocked or not allowed to be produced, which led the movie industry to shrink, withering general artistic spirits in the film industry. Again, the abolition of such abnormal practices of control and censorship has eventually granted freedom of expression to Korean movies. I am more than certain that, after censorship disappeared, the BIFF has finally regained its original status as a representative film festival in Korea by maximizing the investment, promotion and distribution of Korean movies. I have been committed to the development of the Korean film industry, studying and directing the films since the 1970s. In the meantime, I have owed a lot to many people. Especially, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Kim Dong-ho, my predecessor, and other cofounders who have significantly motivated and assisted the establishment of the BIFF.
Q: Currently, we enjoy the conspicuous trend of the Korean Wave about Korean culture fueled into a global phenomenon by successes such as a K-pop idol BTS and the movie Parasite.
Q: What do you think is needed additionally to further strengthen South Korea’s soft power in the movie industry, entertainment, and art?
A: I would like to emphasize that the government’s financial support for burgeoning soft power resources plays a pivotal role in assisting K-culture to leap forward on the international stage. With substantial assistance for laying the groundwork, our government should make efforts to provide institutional and administrative support and consistent funding for the development of our film industry. Particularly, the government should aid the art genres little-known or less popularly highlighted such as Korean classical music. Practical assistance from the government will have a massive influence on creating an international wave of popularity in Korean culture.
Q: Which film festival do you think is the world’s most prestigious one that you’d like to recommend to young generations to attend or watch?
A: If it were the 1990s to the 2000s, I would tell you the film festivals with noteworthy sections regardless of their lengths or seating capacities. However, in the current status quo, I would like to recommend the Cannes Film Festival to them. It is the most magnificent festival, hosting the most glamorous works. Since this festival presents noncompetitive films selected through rigorous assessments and monitorings, I would like people to have a chance to visit this wonderful film festival. I suggest that people should view films through a broader cosmopolitan lens, rather than narrow-minded perspectives blindly admiring or disregarding them, particularly toward the films from other cultures.
Q: Among the films that you have directed, what do you think is most notable or memorable?
A: The film that sparks a fire inside me is the 1999 film Peppermint Candy directed by Lee Chang-dong, which was nominated as the opening film for the BIFF in the same year. This film has won numerous awards including the Grand Bell Award for best film in 2000 and three awards at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Through one man’s life journey of 20 years, this film mirrors Korean historiography during the 1980 Gwangju Uprising and depicts cautiously the flow of human psychology caused by the incident. This film was selected to be streamed at the 53rd Cannes Film Festival in 2000. It is the most memorable production to me.
Q: What personality or attitude should the young generations have to live up to desirable lives as global citizens in the 21st century?
A: I would like to directly quote what the Daewoo Group founder and chairperson Kim Woo-choong said: “The world is wide and there is much to be done.” This is truly valid even now. As you know, Korea, in global society, has achieved a brilliant reputation with rapid economic development and accomplished a cutting-edge and high-end level of technology with remarkable productivity improvement. Now, young people should experience firsthand the amazing advancement their country has obtained and have a firm mindset to live as a genuine global citizen and a global leader in the true sense of the word. They should build up vehemently their potential capacities and momentum with a grand or global vision, and actualize their dreams in the dynamic and diverse stages of the world.
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