Having to miss Korea’s largest and most famous film festival Busan International Film Festival due to work left me feeling blue. That was, until I heard of Pucheon International Fantastic Film Festival. Its interesting line-up and horror / sci-fi theme caught my eye, and before I knew it, I was on a bus to Pucheon armed with little more than curiosity and excitement.
This was the 2008 12th PiFan festival, and I had arrived without really knowing what to expect. The town seemed rather quaint and non-descript, but I could already sense the festival feel in the air.
The fest adopted a ‘dot to dot’ format, where films were shown at three scattered cinematic venues around Pucheon. This immediately added an element of choice and freedom, comparable to choosing ‘which stage next?’ at a music festival.
As soon as I set foot in the first cinema, I was struck by the buzz of creativity and enthusiasm exuded both from those working for PiFan, and the festival-goers. I noticed a rather different audience than I had previously seen at cinemas in Korea. Here were serious cinema-goers, art students, film geeks, and most notably, a hugely diverse population of international movie fanatics.
A real effort was made by the festival organisers to ensure that everyone was as proactively involved as possible. At each screening, audience members were provided with a card on which to rate and leave comments about the film, before submitting back to PiFan. Free ‘film journals’ were also given out, much to my delight. Like mini-scrapbooks, these included a space to attach tickets, a ‘star rating’ system and different subtitled areas for personal reviews and opinions.
The opening film was Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir (which may give you an idea of how ‘in touch’ the festival was, as this was nominated for an Oscar the following year) although I unfortunately had to miss out on the screening of this due to very popular demand, and a lack of organisation on my part. Like all good festivals, though, I was never short of things to do, but surrounded by options of alternative screenings, as well as the usual entertainment that Korean cinemas bring with them (see https://kimchisoul.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/5-things-that-may-surprise-you-about-korean-cinemas/).
Despite not having booked any tickets in advance (which I will be sure to do the next time I go) I got to see an array of brilliant films including a set of ‘Fantastic shorts’ which showcased new talent, as well as some contemporary Korean features such as Death Bell (Yoon Hong-Seung).
The selection of international films was inspired, and there were three clear highlights for me. The first of these was understated Swedish vampire horror Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson) which was then unknown, but is now hugely popular having undergone a Hollywood remake as Let Me In (Matt Reeves). This blew away audiences with the freshness of its originality.
Secondly, and in my opinion the best film at the festival, was surreal The Most Beautiful Night in the World from Japan. Funny, dark, spooky and bizarre, this really was unique, and it was a pleasure to have director Daiuke Tengan lead a ‘Q & A’ session afterwards.
Finally, the climax of the festival came in the shape of a midnight horror-thon. In true Korean form, free milk and sweet bread were kindly provided by PiFan to keep us weary film-watchers going, as we sat in a dark hall with over a hundred other film-lovers to enjoy Tokyo Gore Police (Yoshihiro Nishimura). This stands out as one of the weirdest yet most wonderful film-watching moments I have ever had, and it was seriously awesome!
Pucheon International Fantastic Film Festival is an exciting and eclectic programme that provided one of my favourite weekends in Korea. I still have my filled-in journal, and it is a perfect souvenir of a thoroughly fantastic fest.
(The 15th PiFan will take place this summer- go if you get the chance! http://www.pifan.com/)