Busan Film Fest kicks off amid foreseen, unforeseen complications

Su Jin Jang, Oct. 6, 2016, 9:43 a.m.

BUSAN -- The 21st edition of the Busan International Film Festival, Asia’s largest, kicked off Thursday amid a number of complications both unexpected and long-standing -- outdoor facilities damaged by Wednesday’s Typhoon Chaba and local filmmakers’ ongoing boycott over BIFF’s artistic autonomy.

Sets at BIFF Village, the venue on Haeundae Beach which was to host many of the festival’s outdoor events, were almost completely destroyed when the typhoon swept through the southeastern tip of the Korean Peninsula on Wednesday, with repairs estimated to take several days. 

All events scheduled to take place at BIFF Village, including outdoor interviews and hand-printing ceremonies, have been moved to the Busan Cinema Center, BIFF’s central venue. Festival organizers, breathing a sigh of relief that the typhoon narrowly missed BIFF‘s opening day, are currently working to ensure all events will occur according to schedule, a BIFF official said. All international guests have arrived safely and will be attending events as scheduled, the official added.

While the sun came out Thursday, forecasts have predicted light rain during the weekend and clouds next week. Several areas in Busan, including Marine City adjacent to Haeundae, continue to be flooded with seawater. 

BIFF will run until Oct. 15, screening 301 films from 69 countries on 34 screens at five theaters throughout the city.

The opening film is Korean-Chinese director Zhang Lu’s “A Quiet Dream,” a humorous story shot in black and white about a woman who runs a bar and takes care of her paralyzed father while three men vie for her affection. It is the first Korean film to open BIFF in five years.

“The opening films are traditionally light-hearted ones that can communicate with the audience,” director Zhang said after the film’s press screening on Thursday at a media event moderated by BIFF executive director Kang Soo-youn. “This is a film about people leaning on each other in a normal neighborhood.”

Lingering feud

The aftermath of BIFF’s struggle for autonomy, sparked in 2014 when it screened a controversial documentary against the city government’s wishes, continues to cast a pall over this year’s event.

While BIFF managed to gain significant independence from the Busan Metropolitan Government by amending its bylaws -- it now has the authority to appoint its chairman -- four major filmmakers’ associations continued their boycott of the festival, first declared in April. The Korean Film Directors Association, one of the groups boycotting the festival, said, “The amendments are not enough to ensure the festival’s artistic freedom.”

“The number of Korean filmmakers attending this year is much lower compared to previous years,” said a film industry official who asked to remain anonymous. Directors Park Chan-wook (“The Handmaiden”) and Bong Joon-ho (“Snowpiercer”), the head of the Korean Film Directors Association, will only be participating in unofficial events. Box office hits “Train to Busan,” directed by Yeon Sang-ho and “Tunnel,” directed by Kim Sung-hoon, refused to screen at the festival. 

Some film industry personnel are planning to stage a protest on the red carpet, according to reports, calling for Busan’s Mayor Suh Byung-soo to apologize for “pushing out” BIFF’s former executive director Lee Yong-kwan, who awaits sentencing for embezzling festival funds. The filmmakers argue the probe is political backlash for the controversial 2014 documentary screening.

BIFF’s new Chairman Kim Dong-ho, however, announced in a press conference last month that the amendments “set in stone that the selection and invitation of works will be the exclusive rights of the festival’s executive director and programmers,” positing that “these amendments guarantee the festival’s independence and freedom of expression almost 100 percent.” Kim added that further discussions will take place on the amendments if needed.

The new anti-graft law, which went into effect last week and strictly prohibits buying meals over 30,000 won ($27) for civil servants, journalists and educators, is also impacting the festival. Film distribution company Showbox, for example, canceled an event it had planned to host with producers and press to promote comedy flick “Luck-Key,” set to open next week. Three other major distributors -- CJ Entertainment, Next Entertainment World and Lotte Entertainment -- will also forgo events announcing upcoming film projects to reporters.

Meanwhile, the city of Busan is hosting the Busan One Asia Festival, showcasing hallyu trends from K-pop to K-beauty and K-food, during the same period, prompting civil groups to question the intention of the event.

What to see

All the controversies and troubles that plague BIFF notwithstanding, the festival will feature a significant array of films and filmmakers, albeit on a considerably smaller scale compared to past years.

American director Ben Younger of “Bleed for This” and actors Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart who star in the biographical boxing film will visit BIFF on Oct. 12. Other visiting actors include Japan’s Joe Odagiri (“Over the Fence”) and France’s Deborah Francoise (“The Poisoning Angel”).

Prominent filmmakers such as Mali’s Souleymane Cisse, whose 1978 coming-of-age film “Yellen” won the Jury Prize at Cannes will be serving as jury members.

Korean actors Lee Byung-hyun and Son Ye-jin will hold open interviews on the afternoon of Friday and Saturday, respectively. 

Kim Ki-duk’s “The Net” and Park Chan-wook’s “The Handmaiden” will be screened in the Korean Panorama category. Among the international works to be shown at BIFF is Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake,” which nabbed the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Eleven films from 10 countries, including Indian director Padmakumar Narsimhamurthy’s “A Billion Color Story” and Korean director Lee Dong-eun’s “In Between Seasons” will be competing in BIFF’s signature New Currents category, which celebrates up-and-coming Asian directors. 

“The Dark Wind” by Iraqi director Hussein Hassan, depicting the friction between conventional religious virtues and an innocent romance, making its international premiere at BIFF, will close the festival on Oct. 15.

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