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My Short Films

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Yoo Un-Seong and the Jeonju International Film Festival

I received an email just now from Yoo Un-Seong, former programmer of the Jeonju International Film Festival in South Korea.

Last month, Un-Seong was dismissed by the film festival. The details of his firing were posted on his blog on the 8th of June.

On the 5th of June (Tuesday), the Jeonju International Film Festival (festival director : Mr. Min Byung-Lok) suddenly instructed me that I would be dismissed. Even though I asked Mr. Min and the executive committte to announce the reason of dismissal officially and clearly, they still didn't until now.

At the personal meeting on the 5th of June, Mr. Min just said to me like this : "Because of your harsh reply to the Jeonju local press at the final press conference of JIFF 2012, the Jeonju press people gang up and are now asking to fire you. I have tried to protect you... but I think you should be dismissed [for calming them down]."

What on earth did I say at the final press conference? A local journalist asked a question like this: "People said that, during the JIFF 2012, most of films are great and meaningful. But, to my knowledge, many Jeonju citizens think that there was nothing much to do except for watching movies. [...] What do you think about?" I thought this is just a silly question. So I replied, "JIFF is literally a FILM festival not a festival where films are screened concomitantly [as a sidebar event.]"

Since then, a large number of fellow filmmakers, festival programmers, film critics and others from around the world petitioned for his reinstatement. You can view these emails and letters on Un-Seong's blog posts here and here.

I was at the Jeonju International Film Festival last year with my short film EXHALATION. My memories of the festival were absolutely wonderful. People at the festival cared a lot about cinema, the audiences, the volunteers, the programmers, it was an indescribable atmosphere.

Aside from presenting my own film and doing the Q and A sessions, I also made sure I attended all sorts of film screenings because of the very interesting film program (you kinda knew that you might not be able to catch these films anywhere else in the world). A Kidlat Tahimik retrospective, a screening of Kim Sun's SELF-REFERENTIAL TRAVERSE: ZEITGEIST AND ENGAGEMENT which was shown in Berlin Film Fest but banned in S.Korea, I even caught Park Chan Wook's brother Park Chan-kyong's ANYANG, PARADISE CITY (which eventually won an award at the festival.

(see my recap of the festival. Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3)

Also, every year, Jeonju invites 3 film directors to participate in an omnibus project called Jeonju Digital Project, which serves as the opening film of the festival. (Ying Liang's WHEN NIGHT FALLS, which got him into trouble with Chinese authorities, was part of this year's Jeonju Digital Project, I wrote quite a bit about Ying Liang and his film here)

So yes, I have a lot of love for Jeonju Film Fest. But the experience wouldn't have happened if I didn't bump into Un-Seong half a year earlier, at the Cinemanila Film Festival 2010 (where he served as one of the jurors). Passing him a DVD of my short films just before we both left Manila, I was pleasantly surprised that he wrote back to me a few days later to give me his feedback on each and every single one of the films. I was quite grateful. And a few months after that, I would receive an invitation to the festival for the S.Korean premiere of Exhalation.

Me and Kiki, job well done after the EXHALATION screening!
(Me and EXHALATION producer/ lead actress Kiki Sugino, after the Exhalation screening in Jeonju Film Fest)


(Video of musicians performing in front of the Jeonju Film Fest building)


Looking at the amount of directors who had spoken out for Un-Seong, I believe that in the 8 years he had worked for Jeonju, Un-seong probably had done the same to many of them. And they had him to thank for the opportunity to present their films at the Jeonju Film Fest, to appreciative, constantly curious cinephiles (I always admire audiences of South Korean film festivals, they can be brutally frank, absolutely observant and ridiculously knowledgeable)

Anyway, here's the email from Un-Seong that I received earlier today.

Dear Friends,

I'm Yoo Un-Seong, the programmer of the Jeonju International Film Festival in South Korea. On June 5, I was unfairly dismissed by the JIFF's executive committee. And then, I have kept protesting against it while having requested my reinstatement as a programmer.

BUT NOW, I DECIDED TO RELINQUISH MY CLAIM FOR REINSTATEMENT. (In the attached PDF file, you can read the reasons why I did that. Or please kindly read below until the end of e-mail.)

At present, I wanna express my deep gratitude to all of my friends (directors, film crews, programmers, critics and JIFF's regular audiences etc.) & supporters who kindly and strongly have supported me until now for a month. And please kindly forgive me not keeping this protest on. Thank you so much, my dearest all. But, please don't think it would be a surrender. I will keep fighting on in other way, because I still believe my dismissal was unfairly done without any rightful reason and procedure.

----

Here is an english news article titled "Dismissal of Jeonju Festival programmer sparks controversy" released in KOBIZ (an english film magazine on Korean cinema of Korean Film Council) on June 22.

"The controversial firing of YOO Un-seong, who has served as one of the main programmers of the Jeonju International Film Festival over the past eight years, is shining a spotlight on the relationship between film festivals, local press, and the international film community.

On June 5, JIFF officially notified YOO of his dismissal from his post. The primary reason cited was a response by the programmer to a question posed by a local journalist during the closing press conference of the 2012 edition. Questioned about the festival's lack of non-film related events, YOO responded that JIFF was “literally a ‘film’ festival, not a festival where films are screened on the side." Local journalists, objecting to the harsh tone of YOO’s reply, reportedly pressured the festival to dismiss the programmer, and a decision was made to do so at a private meeting between five members of the executive committee in early June.

YOO, who has rejected the festival's reasons for firing him as groundless, has called publicly for his reinstatement. He has received letters of support from numerous directors, festival programmers and film industry professionals from around the world attesting to his accomplishments as a programmer, and on June 10, 16 JIFF employees released a public letter calling for his reinstatement. [Until now, total 29 employees signed the public letter.] In response, the festival released a list of five official reasons for the dismissal, which YOO and many of his supporters have criticized as insufficient."


(You can check a list of five official reasons of the dismissal : http://annual-parallax.blogspot.kr/2012/06/five-reasons-jiff-dismissed-programmer.html)

And Then,

(extracts from some Korean news articles)


On June 28 : Lee Do-Young, a member of the Jeonju City Council, publicly denounced the unscrupulous personnel management of Jeonju IFF executive committee. In a 5-minute speech session at the City Council, he said, "The Jeonju International Film Festival is now at the center of controversy and ridicule among the Korean film people after the festival executive committee unscrupulously dismissed the programmer Un-Seong Yoo."

Also he insisted, "According to some information, this unfair dismissal was a consequence of the greed of a member of the executive committee." And he added, "Except the five persons who attended the personnel committee for deciding the dismissal of Un-Seong Yoo, other members of JIFF's organizing committee didn't even know about the (secret) personnel committee." Finally, he asked the Jeonju City to take severe disciplinary action to the executive committee (festival director Mr. Min Byung-Lok / vice festival director Mr. Kim Geon) and Noh Hak-Gi, the Jeonju city officer in charge of JIFF.

On June 29 : The dismissal of Jeonju IFF programmer Un-Seong Yoo is selected as one of the top three issues in Korean movie world in the first half of the year. (see at http://movie.naver.com/movie/mzine/cstory.nhn?nid=1457 (Korean only))

On July 2nd : Mr. Min Byung-Lok resigned from the Jeonju IFF's festival director. Though he was appointed for consecutive terms for next three years on June 28, he resigned from the festival director with the responsibility for Yoo Un-Seong's dismissal. But he insisted again that the dismissal was rightfully done in accordance with the JIFF organizing committee's rule.

On July 5th : CINE-BUS goes to Jeonju. "CINE-BUS: JEEP(JIFF) TOUR" is an event organized by "K'ARTS(Korea National University of Arts) Joint Action For Protesting Against Unfair Dismissal of Jeonju IFF Programmer Yoo Un-Seong". CINE-BUS in which K'ARTS students and other people asking for normalization of JIFF get together, left for Jeonju at 10:00 on July 5th. While driving "JEEP(JIFF)" car, they did demonstrations and performances for protesting against Yoo's unfair dismissal at some Jeonju local newspaper companies as well as JIFF office. (They asked the reinstatement of Yoo and the resignation of Mr. Kim Geon, the JIFF's vice festival director.)

And Then,

(Why I decided to relinquish my claim for reinstatement)


After "CINE-BUS: JEEP(JIFF) TOUR", three team managers of JIFF with anger started to seriously criticize me as the villain of the piece. And they officially blamed me while saying like : "Nobody wants anything you want, as you already know.", "Just make your own film festival with your desperate supporters!" and some more personal attacks to me. Meanwhile, one of my colleague programmers sent me a 11-page letter in behalf of programmers and team managers still working (six persons in total). At the end of the letter, it's written as follows : "We [two programmers and four team managers] do not want you to come back to JIFF anymore, regardless of that you're right or not."

According to the letter, they don't agree with my way and procedure of protest [especially they blamed me for announcing my dismissal publicly through Social Network Services like Blog, Twitter and Facebook] and they insisted that I "spoiled" the relationships between JIFF and (domestic and international) film people & institutions. And to my question how they think about the reasons & procedure of my dismissal, they replied, "the dismissal was decided at a level not in relation with us." Instead, they insisted that I made so many "dissonances" for years.

Naturally, I couldn't agree with their opinions [for example, I couldn't find anything in those five official dismissal reasons, pointing out the cases of "dissonances" they insist I did.] So, during the last weekend, I wrote a long reply carrying on counterargument to their opinions and released it publicly with the letter, yesterday on July 11. In this counterargument, I pointed out all logical errors, unreasonable argument and groundless (or sentimental, at best) personal attacks in the programmer's letter and all official opinions that JIFF has released until now.

(You can see my counterargument titled "Make Way For Tomorrow" at : http://annual-parallax.blogspot.kr/2012/07/blog-post.html (Korean only. I couldn't have a time to translate it into English.))

Now, I sized up the situation like this : regardless of upcoming results, I don't think I would be able to work together with them anymore, even if I could be reinstated as a programmer of JIFF. Especially, their personal attacks to me made me deeply painful. But, if I was reinstated, I would have to work with them anyway. I don't think I could do. Now, I decided to relinquish my claim for reinstatement. I wanna express my deep gratitude to all of you who kindly have supported me until now. And please kindly forgive me not keeping this protest on. Thank you so much, my dearest friends. But, please don't think it would be a surrender. I will keep fighting on in other way, because I still believe my dismissal was unfairly done without any rightful reason and procedure.

July 12
Yoo Un-Seong

I can only wish Un-Seong the best. And also Jeonju International Film Festival itself. This is not a "can't we all just get along?" post, but more like a lament.

UPDATED: Shortly after this was written, I received an email from Mr. Min Byung-Lok, the outgoing festival director of Jeonju Film Fest. You should read it here.
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