After the Pandemic
After two years of NETPAC reports highlighting the way film festivals coped with the global lockdown by cancelling, going online or hybridising their events, this year’s 7th Ulju Mountain Film Festival emerges on the other side of the 2-year pandemic. The festival held screenings and events on location, and all jury members attended in person.
Literally the day after I arrived in Seoul, the laws changed on 1 April 2022 to no longer require any quarantine for travellers. With a negative PCR test result, you can now enter Republic of Korea without further fuss, vaccinated or not. This, despite the fact that two weeks prior in mid-March, South Korea recorded the highest number of new infections anywhere in the world. This bold move by the South Korean Government reflects a wider global push towards transitioning to the endemic phase of Covid-19. I expect to see more film festivals this year shift back to pre-pandemic norms. Festivals in Asia will likely adhere to mask wearing and social distancing, while Western festivals will likely remove all restrictions.
This year’s Ulju Mountain Film Festival took place from 1 - 10 April 2022. Previous editions were held in November, however due to the year-end typhoon season, the festival decided to shift it to spring-time. The white cherry blossoms that bloomed all over the venue make April a perfectly pleasant time for the festival to take place. The weather averaged out at a crisp 16°C in the daytime.
The festival venue is located at the convergence of several foothills. In this picturesque and windswept setting, there are several permanent buildings that house the festival office, cinemas, lecture rooms, exhibition spaces, adventure centres and a cafe. For the duration of the festival, several temporary structures are erected: A main giant tent; market area selling food, beverage and local produce; festival merchandise shop; outdoor screening venues. There are 5 screening venues in total, 3 of them outdoor, and 2 indoor.
I had one of the most memorable cinema going experiences, watching a mountaineering film with actual mountains in the background and cold wind sweeping across my face. A true “4D cinema” experience. The festival venue is one of the most beautiful and instagram-worthy nature spots I have come across, and despite being a 40-minute drive from the main city of Ulsan, local audiences showed up in relatively large numbers, especially on the weekends. For international guests, it seems an ideal place to gather for a cultural experience.
Like other Mountain Film Festivals, the films in the programme deal with adventure, mountains, nature and human exploration.
Every year, UMFF has a special focus on a country known for its mountaineering and adventure activities. This year’s focus was on Switzerland, with 17 Swiss films participating and the Swiss Ambassador gracing the festival. Altogether, across 4 main sections (International Competition, Panorama, Together, Focus), there were 148 films from 42 countries in the programme. There was a total of 125 screenings (including online), 3 Alpine related exhibitions (Korean Alpinist Exhibition, Ulju Mountain Culture Award Exhibition, Kim Hong Bin Special Exhibition), and numerous on-site activities for participants that took advantage of the surrounding nature. Some of these include Yoga, Counting Stars, Forest Walk, and creating art out of native flowers. The festival also engaged two Korean pop/rock bands to perform for delighted audiences - ‘Lucy’ and ‘The Solutions’.
During the lockdown, many countries imposed closures of cinemas, forcing audiences worldwide to change viewing habits. Since 2020, online streaming subscriptions have increased to over 1 billion worldwide. Although South Korea never imposed any lockdowns or closures of its cinemas, South Korean cinema attendance still saw a 75% drop compared with pre-pandemic times.
Even with that drop, in-person cinema attendance at this year’s festival totalled 7,146.
Participation for festival organised classes came to 8,142. Attendance at exhibition galleries was 13,311. A further 9,700 people viewed films online. Which brings the total audience participation to 38,299 (68% in-person). 1,700 of the participants were students from the nearby city of Ulsan.
Awards The NETPAC award was given to South Korean short film Without You “for a tender portrait of an elderly couple during the time of covid, full of hope and joy, with authentic, moving performances.” The jury consisted of Nada Azhari Gillon, a Syrian - French journalist, Sim Young, a South Korean film & TV producer, and Kan Lumé, Singaporean filmmaker/educator.
For further details, please see appendix below. For full results of other awards, please see https://www.umff.kr/eng/addon/00000100/award.asp
Participants’ Feedback “Ulju Mountain Film Festival is wonderfully organised and with a stable team. I believe in this film festival’s bright future.” - Krzystof Wielicki, Ulju Mountain Culture Award Winner “Every year, I visit this film festival. This year’s audiences are younger than last year’s.” - Ulsan resident “This was my first time attending this festival and I did not expect the venue to be so well designed and the program to be so trendy and eco-oriented. It was fantastic to be able to meet directors and actors that I would otherwise not have a chance to meet. I would love to visit again next year.” - Seoul resident
Kan Lume (Chairperson) - Singapore
Ms. Nada Azhari Gillon - Syria/France
Ms. Sim Young - South Korea
4 days prior to leaving, I got covid. I had to quarantine for 7 days. I was told by my jury coordinator that South Koreans are rather accustomed to covid infections. The country has never locked down throughout the 2 years of pandemic. Despite this, there is relatively low covid fatality due to 88% of the population having been vaccinated and the country having one of the highest booster shot take-up rates in the world. Having been fully vaccinated myself, I experienced mild symptoms. No fever, slight headache for the first two days, and a lingering congested throat that got better by day 5. I remember having worse symptoms with the common flu.
The festival staff treated me with the upmost kindness and generosity as I quarantined, nursing me with food and medicine. The Festival Director’s wife even prepared some food for me. This warmth and kindness extended even days beyond the closing of the festival. They rebooked my flight ticket and ensured I got to the airport safely. I am immensely grateful for the hospitality of the festival.
In the next year or two as we transition from pandemic to endemic phase, there should be a mindset shift in event organisers and audiences. With vaccination completed for those willing to take it, Covid is now less deadly and should be treated as such. Taking cue from Ulju Mountain Film Festival, it is time to get back to the business of watching films in public spaces. The social interactions that took place at the festival rejuvenated all.
Report by Kan Lumé. Information provided by Jinna Lee. Photos courtesy of UMFF.
Two-time NETPAC Award winner, and one of Singapore’s most prolific filmmakers, Kan Lume’s debut feature “The Art Of Flirting” was made for US$150, used two non-actors, shot in 2 days and won Best ASEAN Feature at Malaysian Video Awards 2005. Second feature “SOLOS” was the first Singaporean film to compete in AFI FEST and picked up the “Premio Nuovi Sguardi” Award at Torino GLBT Film Festival. His third feature “Dreams from the Third World” won the Movie Max Award at Cinema Digital Seoul