2013 London Korean Film Festival: Interview with Festival Director Hye-Jung Jeon

Hye-jung Jeon is the artistic director of the London Korean Film Festival, which is growing in popularity and size every year. This  year’s event, starting today and running until the 15th in London (followed by a tour of four other UK cities until November 22) is the festival’s eighth year, and is sure to be another brilliant success. Ms Jeon is also project director at the Korean Cultural Centre UK, located near Trafalgar Square in the heart of London, which opened five years ago and has since put on many interesting exhibitions, performances, and special events related to Korean culture. We are pleased to feature this special interview with such an important figure in London’s cultural landscape.

AGI: You’ve been very busy recently, haven’t you? Tell us about your trip to Korea and the Busan Film Festival where you won an award for promoting Korean cinema in the UK.

Jeon: Thank you, yes it’s been a busy few weeks with Busan and then the London Korean Film Festival and of course our President’s State Visit to the UK. Busan was very exciting as I was honoured for my contribution to Korean Film Promotion and our attempts to bring Korean cinema to a wider audience. I must say that it’s a team effort and all our staff at the London Korean Film Festival work tirelessly to bring the festival to the UK each year and it was wonderful for our efforts to be recognised.

Now you are back in London and preparing for another year of the London Korean Film Festival. What surprises do you have in store for us?

This year we have a jam packed schedule with blockbusters, documentaries, dramas and comedies as well as Q+A’s and forums with top actors and directors. We also have classic films, retrospectives as well as a series of films being screened for free at the Curzon, Soho. Our Closing Gala is also very exciting as we have Korea’s leading actress, Yoon Yuh-jung joining us.

I heard that even the President of South Korea may attend the festival this year during her official visit to London in November. Is that true? And is the President, Park Geun-hye, very supportive of film and the arts?

Yes, our President has been very supportive of the Creative Industries and is keen to see greater collaboration in this area between Korea and the UK. So during the State Visit, President Park will stop by the festival, which is just wonderful for everyone, we are every excited. Also during the festival our two Ministries of Culture from the UK and Korea will sign an MOU, promising to work closely together in the coming years.

What does it take to manage a film festival of this size? How do you go about organizing it every year?

At the Korean Cultural Centre UK we support all aspects of Korean Culture in the UK and for 8 years we have run the London Korean Film Festival with a small compact team. We work with our Advisory Committee and liaise with our partners in the UK and Korea and together we prepare a programme that represents all aspects of Korean cinema, past and present. It is a big job and time consuming but with our experience we have managed to develop and grow each year.

“Korea has become a creative hub for Asia and this is being driven in part by Korean film”

What has been the response to the LKFF from British audiences in past years?

We have always had a loyal following and each year more and more people hear about our work and our festival. From a small festival of Korean cinema in 2006 we have grown into the largest festival of Korean cinema anywhere outside of Korea. Of course, it is the response of the audiences and the fans that have helped us to grow and encourage more and more actors and stars to join us in London each year.

There have been some changes in the Korean film industry in the past year or two. Can you explain what is going on now and why things are changing rapidly?

There have been many changes in Korean cinema recently, the industry itself is doing well, but like everywhere costs are high and so it is getting harder and harder to produce films. However we are consistently seeing new projects and young directors breaking through which is very promising. Also the Busan International Film Festival has established itself firmly on the global festival calendar now, so much so that the Korean Film Council will now be based in Busan and not Seoul. In all, Korea has become a creative hub for Asia and this is being driven in part by Korean film.

If someone has never seen a Korean film before, where would you recommend they start? What are some of your personal favourite films, actors, and directors?

Ah that is a hard question, as we have become close with so many actors and directors over the years, it would be wrong to pick one director, and we of course have all the big hitters here this year, namely Kim Dong-ho, Kim Jee-woon and Director Kang Woo Suk to name just a few.

However, Korea has a lot of talented female directors which are not that well known in the UK and so if you pushed me, I would highlight Yim Soon-rye, whose South Bound is one of our Critic’ Choice. Director Yim’s films often look at ordinary people, and her view of these people, their joys and sorrow always leaves us discovering a little more about ourselves along the way.

Can you talk a little bit about the other work you do at the Korean Cultural Centre UK? What kind of non-film related events have been happening there?

The Korean Cultural Centre UK is the cultural office of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in London and throughout the year we organise art exhibitions, film nights, music festivals, fashion shows, language and music classes, workshops and cultural courses when we are not organising a film festival!

We are always busy and always have something to watch, see and do at our centre, so please stop by and say hello!

Interview by Tim Holm

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