Busan film festival ready for action despite turmoil

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Opening ceremony of the 2009 Busan International Film Festival. Wikimedia/Injeong Won CC BY SA

BUSAN (AFP) – Organisers of the Busan International Film Festival say they are confident they can cast off the politics that has overshadowed the influential event as its 22nd edition kicks off tomorrow.

The annual festival, which has long championed independent Asian cinema, is determined to “preserve its identity” despite being embroiled in drama of its own for the past three years, said founder Kim Dong-ho.

Kim, 80, was brought back to help run BIFF in 2015 after previous festival boss Lee Yong-kwan was charged with fraud and removed from his post. That scandal came after the festival decided in 2014 to stick with the screening of a contentious documentary despite pressure from  Busan Mayor Suh Byung-soo to withdraw it from the programme.

The film in question, Diving Bell: The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol, was critical of the South Korean government’s handling of the Sewol ferry disaster that year which claimed around 300 lives. Government funding cuts followed and then boycotts by leading Korean cinema groups such as the Directors’ Guild of Korea, which pointed a finger at political meddling.

“Although this year’s festival is still facing unsolved problems, we are determined to encourage up-and-coming Asian directors, support new Asian films and further our role in the film industry,” said Kim.

Industry insiders had questioned whether BIFF could repair the damage to its reputation – a point raised by festival staff earlier this year when they demanded Kim and festival director Kang Soo-yeon resign over lack of action on the various troubles.

The pair have since acquiesced to those demands and will hand over the reins at the end of this year’s edition of the festival. Amid the turmoil, BIFF’s programmers have still managed to line up around 300 films and 100 world premieres for this year’s festival.

While Hollywood has suffered a summer that saw box office receipts drop by some 16 percent, a series of domestic hits has driven the Chinese market up by 10 percent, while South Korea is on target for a record 2017.

BIFF has this year attracted international guests including two-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone, who will head the jury for the festival’s main New Currents award for first- or second-time Asian directors.

Fellow Hollywood A-lister Darren Aronofsky will also make an appearance as he tours the festival circuit with his horror mother! and Hong Kong action maestro John Woo will bring his latest thriller Manhunt to the Korean port city. Other notables flying in from across the region include Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda and China’s Jia Zhangke.

BIFF opens tomorrow with the premiere of Korean director Shin Su-won’s revenge thriller Glass Garden.

It will close with historical drama Love Education from Taiwanese director Sylvia Chang – the first time female directors have book-ended the festival.

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