Busan Film Fest closes amid struggles, welcomes new beginning
Anna Park, Oct. 17, 2016, 9:47 a.m.
The 21st Busan International Film Festival, Asia’s largest, wrapped up Saturday with a closing ceremony moderated by actor-singer Kim Min-jong and actress-model Choi Yeo-jin at the Busan Cinema Center, after an unremarkable, quiet 10-day run, which saw scaled-back events and a smaller audience than previous years.
The New Currents Award, BIFF’s representative competition category which recognizes rookie Asian directors, went to two films by Chinese directors: Wang Xuebo’s debut feature “Knife in the Clear Water,” the story of a man forced to kill his cow, and Zang Qiwu’s “The Donor,” about a father who decides to sell his kidney to support his family.
The BIFF Mecenat Award, given to the best Korean and Asian documentary pictures, went to Korean director Sung Seung-taek’s “Neighborhood” and “The Crescent Rising” by Sheron Dayoc from the Philippines.
Gu Kyo-hwan and Lee Min-ji of “Jane” received the actor and actress of the year awards, which celebrates first-time actors in independent Korean films.
The event came to an official end with the screening of “The Dark Wind” by Iraqi director Hussein Hassan.
Numerous hurdles, new beginning
This year’s festival, which took place amid a number of unfavorable conditions, was significantly scaled back compared to previous years. The total number of audience tallied at 165,149, down 27.4 percent from last year’s 227,377, according to numbers released by BIFF.
“The overall atmosphere was subdued, apparently due to the smaller number of films and theaters, the closing down of (the outdoor venue) BIFF village and the anti-graft law,” said BIFF Executive Director Kang Soo-youn at a press conference Saturday at Busan Cinema Center.
The festival screened 299 films from 69 countries, slightly fewer than last year’s 302 films from 75 countries. Main events such as the Asia Film Market -- which featured some 157 film companies from 24 countries -- Asia Film Academy and Asia Project Market were also smaller compared to 2015.
The odds were not in favor of the BIFF this year. Typhoon Chaba pounded Busan one day before the BIFF’s opening, wiping out the festival’s outdoor venues. The new anti-graft law, which went into effect last month, prompted film distributors to cancel press events, as the law prohibits public officials, reporters and teachers from receiving gifts over 50,000 won ($44) and meals over 30,000 won.
Film academics and the state-run Korea Media Rating Board’s judges were not invited to the festival this year, since their hotel and flight expenses could not be covered by the festival under the new law.
However, the most significant factor behind the less than festive mood of the festival was the industry-wide boycott of the event, undertaken by filmmakers skeptical of the BIFF’s artistic autonomy. Major Korean directors -- including Park Chan-wook, Kim Ki-duk and Na Hong-jin, whose films screened at the Korean Cinema Today Panorama category -- and A-list actors were absent from official BIFF events, casting a pall on the event’s celebrity power.
A BIFF official also pointed out that there “had not been enough time to prepare.”
During the first half of the year, BIFF’s organizing body was mired in conflict with the Busan Metropolitan Government in the aftermath of a 2014 screening of a controversial documentary. It was working on amendments to its bylaws aimed at ensuring artistic independence, which led to invitations of films and directors being sent out much later than usual, the official said.
“It’s a miracle the event took place at all,” the official remarked.
Despite the struggles, Kang said the festival had “tried its best,” marking a new beginning.
“It will be recorded as a meaningful year, the year that the festival was held under the leadership of the first-ever civilian chief,” said Kang.
Until May this year, BIFF’s chairmanship was automatically assumed by the mayor of Busan, the city which, as the largest contributor to the festival, assumed 6 billion won of the 12 billion won budget this year. BIFF’s current Chairman Kim Dong-ho was elected to office by BIFF’s general assembly.
“We will now strive for richer programs in future events,” she said.