The first ever Toronto Korean Film Festival wrapped on July 1st after a nine-day run in its first year. The highlights of the festival were the films of course, closing with the latter two entries of the famed Vengeance Trilogy from Park Chan-wook, Oldboy and Symapthy for Lady Vengeance on 35mm film prints, highlighting some of the best that Korean Cinema has to offer. Of course there were ups and downs, as with any fest going through its first iterations, growing pains if you will, and the TKFF is no exception.
First off, while I was not present for the opening gala which I did hear run late, there seemed to be some disorganization with lineups and showtimes as for the first weekend not one film started at its designated start time. Now while this is not a rarity in film festival land, the fact that we were not even seated for most of these performances until after the scheduled start time is. To the festival’s credit by the 2nd weekend this seemed to be an issue of the past, at least I hope it is. Also, the exact same spooling of header/commercials greeted us before every showing, which is not entirely bad, but with the attendance being mainly a smaller but dedicated crowd attending more than one show, mixing up the clips and maybe getting more director endorsements might be the way to go next year. And personally I was hoping for more of a “taste” of Korean culture in general surrounding the festival throught its duration (I understand was more prevalent on opening night). That said I cannot deem the first offering of TKFF as anything less than a minor success. I know they were hoping for better attendance, and that will come with time, but the basis for any successful venture like this lies in its people and in that category TKFF flourishes. The cast behind the scenes is a group of friendly, enthusiastic and talented people that I personally wish every success with this fest for years to come. The films may have been the main attraction but they were a close second. How TKFF returns next year remains to be seen, I feel they may be better served with 5 nights instead of 9 with 3 or 4 shows on the weekends but that’s just me, whether they change venues or go completely new release without the ‘best of’ format one things is for sure, if it’s the same people behind it you will see me in line with my ticket in hand.
You know ultimately, I have to rate the first edition of TKFF (Toronto Korean Film Festival) a minor disappointment. Growing pains and organizational hiccups are understandable given that it was a first year event, but there was just too much wrong with the entire event. It was far too long for a first time festival; 9 days was more than a little ambitious and given the pedigree of some of the programmers, organizers and advisors it was a little too much. For a first time festival going entirely retro is good enough and it had more than its fair share of highlights. The opening night film of “Secret Sunshine” was a stunning and heart wrenching drama, and while some of the screenings like “Tale of Two Sisters”, “Save The Green Planet” and the aforementioned Park Chan-wook films that closed out the festival had the added bonus of being displayed on 35mm film prints, there were some films that just didn’t work. Films like “Epitaph” and “Failan” that had their Toronto premieres were not very strong and while I’ll admit that there may have been a cultural divide in regards to the animated film “Leafie”, it was one of the more awkward and potential inappropriate animated films I have seen in some time.
Going forward I would recommend trying to accentuate more of the cultural aspects that could have been there, even if it’s just a Kimchi station on opening night and while retro programming does have its place in most film festivals, they desperately need to add newer films that a great portion of the general public are oblivious to, in order to expand their audience. It was an OK start for TKFF and I certainly hope they get the opportunity to do this again next year, but they do need to make some big changes and learn what aspects that they need to focus on more if they want to have better success in the coming years.