Just back from Korea, where we spent a wonderful week, touring the Hongdae and Gangnam districts of Seoul for two days and eating wonderful food. Then we boarded a bus with press and other guests for the Jecheon International Music and Film Festival.
In its eleventh year, the festival in this scenic resort area two hours southeast of Seoul focuses on films about music and musicians. Six theaters ran programs all day for five days. The 103 films in the festival were chosen from about 400 by Chun Jin-su, a middle-aged man with sparkling eyes and a great smile, who introduced us at both our film events, and chaired the panel. Mostly new films from all over the world, and concerts at night. We were invited for two silent film screenings and a panel discussion. A couple of our colleagues have already been here.
We were the first silent film musicians at JIMFF to involve singing, and it went over wonderfully. The venue was a large open-air stage on the beautiful lake. We got to walk the red carpet and pose for photos at the opening ceremony, before being entertained by Bwung-wu Lee, a famous Korean film composer and his band, and watching a doc about the Kim Sisters of Ed Sullivan fame—one of them performed for us! Then there was a reception at our hotel, followed by a private dinner where we had a chance to talk with the musicians we had just heard, and jury members, who included Yonfan, director of the acclaimed Peony Pavilion.
Friday night we did Phantom of the Opera; I played synth, Joanna sang the Faust music beautifully. The audience was mostly young people, as the festival brilliantly packages the silent programs as openers for big-name Korean bands. So there was a full house, around 1500 people, who got to experience something that they might otherwise not have discovered. Members of the staff told us they really enjoyed the music. The audience was warm in their response, but the following night for Grandma’s Boy they gave us a really huge ovation, which surprised and delighted us. I played piano and synth and Joanna sang and played small percussion. We wondered if they would get all the humor, but the laughter for Lloyd was big from the outset and continued throughout. Slightly smaller house, maybe 1,000. Many people told us how much they enjoyed the singing and the whole experience. The mayor of Jecheon was there both nights, very charming and personable.
We stayed after our shows both nights for most of the rock/pop/disco/funk bands. The third night the film was Beatles, a sweet and funny coming-of-age film from Norway about 4 Oslo boys who are trying to start a band. The audience laughed a lot. Then roared for the two live bands, Sultan of the Disco and Norazo, and danced and sang along with many songs.
The whole festival was extremely well run, with 200 young volunteers dressed in green T-shirts, and all happy smiles and continuous greetings of "Anyeoung haseo!” We had a driver, a college-age girl to accompany us and translate at markets and in general. Our contacts spoke very good English. A large progressive national paper and a weekly film magazine with a circulation of 100,000 interviewed us.
Sunday they took us to a sensational Korean restaurant for lunch. We had a private room for us and our young translator. Plate after plate of side dishes, soup and rice were brought out. Different rice for Nick and me than for Jo, Mollie and Lilly. Something about the energy.
We sat on mats and ate as much as we could before we had to leave for the panel on silent film music, which took place in an 80-seat theater in the modern megaplex in the center of the city. We showed some clips and talked about our work for 20 minutes, with a first-rate simultaneous translator. We were followed by a representative from the Korean Film Archive, who talked about how silent films were shown in Korea with narrators (like benshis in Japan), and showed a clip from Way Down East with narration and music. Two groups of young Korean musicians presented clips of their performances and discussed their work. Each group has been performing for a few years and has a couple of films in their repertoire. One showed a clip from The Kid, with music from Rocky accompanying the fight scene. The other group, Floating Island, created a score for what is evidently the only surviving Korean silent feature film, the others having been destroyed in the war. The film,
Crossroads of Youth, was a big hit at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival, and the accompaniment included both narration and
singing with string, accordion and piano accompaniment, very effective.
After the panel on Monday we finally had some time to relax and see some more films, including:
MAIKO: DANCING CHILD (Norway, 2015) stunning doc about the Japanese-born prima ballerina of the Norwegian Ballet and her tough choices between career and family. We cried throughout. Great dancing, great film.
MIX TAPE (Turkey, 2014) funny romantic comedy with an Andy Kaufman-type antihero who is struggling to find his voice as a writer while working as a DJ and wooing his lady friend with his mix tapes of great Turkish pop music.
NUTCRACKER (Korea, 2014) Korean Ballet choreographed by Bolshoi’s Yuri Grigrovich. Nice dancing, but not well filmed, too many quick cuts and long shots.
AMY (USA, 2015) doc about Amy Winehouse. Nick said it was astounding. (I missed it)
KARA-ORCHESTRA (Taiwan, 2013) Nick liked it a lot. We saw the last half hour—a symphony orchestra performs a concert with tribal singers despite protests from the conservative element of the orchestra.
BLACK GOSPEL 2 (Korea, 2015) follow-up to first film about Korean singer who meets many Harlem music ministers. Lots of wonderful music. Heard some of them sing live post-film.
MATEO (USA/Cuba/Japan, 2014) doc about first American white mariachi singer. Nick and Jo saw and liked a lot.
Wanted to see but no time: KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON (saw in Telluride, would happily see again),
MAX AND LENNY (director Fred Nicolas was there, we enjoyed talking with him)
WRECKING CREW (Nick just watched on Netflix and said it was hugely inspiring)
THE PIANO, TRUMPETER, WANGEN 3D, FOREVER AND A DAY, and the shorts programs. etc. etc.
jimff.org has links to most of the films.
We’re still exhausted but it was a trip we will cherish forever—warm, wonderful people, fascinating sights, and really delicious food. Can’t wait to go back.