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Queer film festival addresses pressing issues of Korea’s LGBT community

On Thursday afternoon, the 17th Korea Queer Film Festival kicks off, the latest event in a monthlong program organized as part of the Korea Queer Culture Festival.

Saturday’s gay pride parade proved a massive success, drawing a record 85,000 people to Seoul Plaza. The turnout apparently shows Korea becoming more understanding of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and the organizers hope to build on that.

From left to right: Holic and Ha-re stand outside the Korea Herald building with this year’s film festival programs. (Paige Shin/The Korea Herald)
From left to right: Holic and Ha-re stand outside the Korea Herald building with this year’s film festival programs. (Paige Shin/The Korea Herald)

“This year our new President Moon Jae-in has commented that he ‘does not like homosexuality,’ which not only hurt and frustrated the queer community, but cemented the idea that queer issues are not urgent and can be ignored,” said Yang Eun-oh, the festival director who goes by “Holic.”

To that regard, the motto of the festival this year is “Queer, is now playing.” Public relations director Ha-re, who withheld her surname, explained this year’s program is bigger and better than ever, with the festival having secured two screens at Lotte Cinema Broadway in Gangnam, a stark contrast to the festival’s humble beginnings in 2001 when they showed one film on one screen.

This year‘s programming aims to tackle three pressing issues the LGBT community here faces.

“Filling in the Gaps” focuses on overlooked identities in the sexual orientation spectrum. Holic said that the overarching male-centric focus in the Korean film industry exists as well in the Korean queer film community, which is mostly gay-focused and male-centric.

This year, lesbian films get special attention, including “Our Love Story,” last year’s lesbian love story sensation that also won the top domestic prize at the Jeonju International Film Festival.

“Domestic films dealing with neglected parts of queer society are really cherished by our audiences, so we make an extra effort to discover those films. Tickets sell out really quickly for those type of films and many people queue for the Korean shorts section, so we allocate extra screening sessions for those. We also have a film that focuses on asexuality this year,” Holic said.

Another issue is “Asian Culture x Gender Identity,” which brings films about transgender people in Thailand, Indonesia and Korea in parallel with each other to emphasize that they exist in Korea as much as in other Asian countries.

Lastly, “Queer, Displaced People” focuses on asylum-seeking LGBT people who feel unsafe living in Korea. The issue has become increasingly more relevant following the “gay witch hunt” controversy in which the Korean military has recently been embroiled. The controversy shocked not only the LGBT community in Korea, but has drawn harsh criticism from human rights activists across the globe. 

One such critic is Lee Yong-Seok, an official at civic group A World Without War, who will talk at the festival about the issue of persecuted people seeking asylum. Ha-re said that the programming differs from typical festivals in that post-screening discussions involve not only the film director and producers, but also outside experts and public figures.

“Non-queer, heterosexual people who are interested in LGBT are growing among our festivalcomers. Expats and foreigners are increasingly present, and as a result of frequent inquiries, our official guide booklet is available in English and a significant portion of our films have English subtitles,” added Holic.

The Korea Queer Film Festival begins Thursday and runs through Sunday. More information in English is available at

By Kai Potter/ Intern reporter (

Intern reporter Min-joo Kim contributed to this article. ― Ed.