In 2007, when I had finished making Eclipse, I applied to a couple dozen film festivals that took place between January and October of 2008. If we had been accepted to a handful, or more, I would have, along with some of the crew and cast, taken the film on what is idiomatically known in ‘the industry’ as the Festival Circuit. Unfortunately we only got accepted into two local film festivals so there was no circuit to be had. But Korea has its own festival circuit and you wouldn’t believe the kind of stuff you’d find here!
To be clear there are two types of festivals in Korea. The Traditional (or holiday) festivals which include momentous, nationwide celebrations are centered around major events such as Lunar New Year, the Harvest, and Buddha’s Birthday. And the other type are (for lack of a better term) Non-Traditional festivals which range from every subject imaginable. The traditional festivals are celebrated much like our holidays in the western world so I won’t go into much detail here in this entry as I will most likely devote entire entries to each one at the appropriate time. What this article will be about are the random and often crazy non-traditional festivals.
- Boryeong Mud Festival – Celebrates the ‘high-quality’ mud from Boryeong by traveling to the beach and having a huge 2 weekend mud fight with other foreigners and Koreans alike. Don’t ask me what constitutes ‘high-quality’ mud but I can tell you than in the past few years that this festival has grown in popularity, so many people show up there isn’t enough mud so the sponsors actually have to ship in additional mud for the party. (No one knows what quality the shipped in mud is and there’s no Korean FDA to give it a rating)
- Pohang International Fireworks Festival – On the opposite coast from Boryeong is the city of Pohang which faces the East Sea (or if you ask someone from Japan, the Japan Sea). Essentially it is three days of spectacular fireworks displays that put our Independence Day to shame. After all, Asians invented the stuff. During the day you can also participate in water sports and other fun beach style activities and August is one damn fine month to be outdoors.
- Bonghwa Sweet Fish Festival – Visitors to this festival can fish for smelts! Or they can swim with smelts! Or they can learn all about the smelt fishing industry via slideshows, digital presentations, and a mock-theme park based completely on smelt fishing! (Seriously folks, I’m not making this stuff up.)
- The Great Battle of Hansan Festival – This is all about the Pop music group from America… is what I would’ve said if that were true, which it isn’t. The festival (and many re-enactments) actually celebrates Joseon Admiral Yi Sun-Sin’s great victory at the naval battle of Hansando that took place in 1592. This festival is held in August on the anniversary of the victory and visitors can learn all about the battle while enjoying the beautiful scenery of the region.
- Muju Firefly Festival – This is taken directly from the website, “When night falls in Muju the fireflies come out! Don’t miss this magical experience!” Wow. It is a fact that the fireflies of Muju are supposedly so special, Korea has named them a national monument… not built a monument for them; the fireflies themselves are actually the monument. I don’t know how an entire species of insect can be a monument but apparently the Koreans do.
- Uiseong Garlic International Kite Festival – Yes, I said international. You’d think that an international festival surrounding garlic would be in Sicily but nope! The Koreans have it. This festival hasn’t reached the popularity of some of the others. I guess Koreans don’t care so much about garlic as they do mud – although they must care about garlic enough to have a festival about it. So maybe they love their garlic more than we Italians do. Visitors at this festival get to tour another fake theme-park all about Korea’s garlic industry and witness performances on a stage by actresses dressed as whole cloves!
- Daegu International Bodypainting Festival – Artists from all over the world (I didn’t see any Americans) converge on Daegu once a year to paint the mostly naked bodies of models who then don feather headdresses and strut around stage wearing virtually nothing. The impressive display happens amid the majestic mountains surrounding Daegu in an area called Duryu Park which also boasts a football (soccer) stadium, a cultural arts center, and a performing arts venue. I’m not sure how this festival is views from other countries but there was a write up in the Washington Post about it so it must carry some weight.
So that’s the first set of festivals in Korea. Trust me there are hundreds more. This is just a small taste. There will be three more parts to finish this entry: Autumn, Winter, and Spring. I hope that you’ll still be following these when Spring rolls around. Until next time…