In a country dotted with mountains, it’s perhaps not unimaginable that a ready audience base is hungry for such an event. After all, one of the country’s oldest and largest mountaineering clubs, Corea’s Alpine Club (CAC) was founded in 1945.
Long lines were snaking outside all cinemas where fans were treated to 144 films from 41 countries, ranging from Alpinism, Mountaineering, Adventure and Exploration to Nature and People. This year’s Special Focus is on the Himalaya-Nepal Cinema. The Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival is the most established in Asia, and assisted the festival’s programme with two features and four shorts.
Breaking away from its first two editions, this year’s festival broadened the thematic Mountain category to films about adventure sports and ethnographic investigations. “For the last two years,” says programmer Jinna Lee, “we focussed on the culture of mountains with mostly documentaries. Now we have a wider theme including people and nature and more fiction and experimental styles.”
As Ulju itself is a mountain area, the festival is located in a hiking zone. The festival is headquartered in the Yeongnam Alps Complex Welcome Centre that features an artificial rock wall for amateur climbers. A large camping area surrounds a cluster of large tented cinemas amidst a breathtaking panorama of huge, forested mountains.
Fourteen films were nominated in the NETPAC award section ranging from shorts, animation, documentaries to fiction and features. Among the standout films were Wang Qiang’s Sunshine That Can Move Mountains (China, 2017), Kang Yuqi’s A Little Wisdom (Nepal/Canada/China, 2017) and Kesang Tseten LAMA’s Trembling Mountains (Nepal, 2016). Sunshine That Can Move Mountains dealt with the Buddhist ideal of non-attachment, by portraying a monk who returns home to look after his comatose brother but in the process rekindles an old romance with his brother’s wife. A Little Wisdom is an intimate documentary of a monastery for young boys in Lumbini, Nepal, known as the birthplace of the Buddha. Instead of a prayerful picture of meditation and abstinence, the film shows that boys will be boys - with scenes of online gaming, Facebook and thoughts about girls. One striking scene shows a young boy beating up a smaller boy. They do reconcile eventually but the film sharply detours from the stoic representation of Buddhism.
But the NETPAC winner was eventually Trembling Mountain, a moving documentary about Langtang, a mountain village that many trekkers pass through, that was totally destroyed by an earthquake in 2015. More than 60% of the villagers perished and the film insistently tries to uncover whether the survivors can find the strength to rebuild their village and go on.
Also of note is the fact that Ulju’s Festival Director is Bae Chang Ho, a senior figure among Korean film directors, and his stature has drawn many in the local film world to attend. A minor trend has occurred whereby senior filmmakers are reinvented as Festival Directors. One could perhaps date this back to 2006, when filmmaker Park KiYong became Festival Director of Cinema Digital Seoul. Other senior directors include Lee Myung Se who is now Festival Director of Seoul Eco Film Festival.
-- Philip Cheah