Busan Film Festival Opens despite Unresolved Issues

David Lee, Oct. 12, 2017, 7:54 a.m.


The Busan International Film Festival opened in the southern South Korean city of Busan on Thursday despite numerous issues threatening its status as Asia's largest film festival. Over the past three years, BIFF has been locked in strife with the sponsoring city of Busan over the latter's "municipal interference" in the festival's artistic freedom.

It began in 2014 when conservative Busan Mayor Suh Byoung-soo, who was then BIFF organizing committee chairman, allegedly tried to block the screening of a documentary film critical of the Park Geun-hye administration's handling of the country's worst-ever ferry disaster, which occurred the same year.

The screening led to an unprecedented audit into then-festival director Lee Yong-kwan, the sentencing of him and other executive members, his ousting as director and a major cut in the city's annual funding for the fest. With the issue still unresolved, three film industry associations, led by the Directors Guild of Korea and representing about 300 movie directors, have been continuing their boycott of the festival since last year. They demand an apology from Suh for his alleged "political retaliation" against artistic expression and the reinstatement of the ousted festival director.

In addition to the "artistic freedom" issue, the festival is also facing deepening internal strife and a leadership crisis. Its chief programmer and executive deputy director Kim Ji-seok died of a heart attack during his business trip to the Cannes Film Festival in May, and the current festival leaders Kang Soo-youn and Kim Dong-ho announced in August that they will leave when the 22nd edition wraps up. They reaffirmed their position during a press conference announcing this year's lineup last month.

Their resignation offer followed a statement from a group of BIFF staff that criticized the two leaders for being dogmatic and not fully communicating with staff. The two were also criticized for having been soft on the Busan mayor "who ousted former director Lee." Fortunately, the problems did not affect the lineup for this year's event. It will run until Oct. 21 and feature 300 films from 75 countries from around the world, one more than last year's 299.

Singer-actress Im Yoon-ah, better known by her stage name Yoona of popular K-pop group Girls' Generation, and actor Jang Dong-gun co-hosted the opening ceremony that began at the 5,000-seat outdoor theater at the Busan Cinema Center in the evening following a red carpet event. Despite rainy weather, the theater was soon packed with Busan citizens and cinephiles who came from in and out of the country to enjoy the annual event.

Some 250 Korean and foreign filmmakers and actors walked on the red carpet to attend the ceremony and waved to their fans. They included Korean actors Moon Geun-young, Son Ye-jin, Cho Jin-woong, Moon So-ri, Ahn Sung-ki, Shin Seong-il and Kim Rae-won. Among foreign guests were Japanese actresses Yu Aoi and Miho Nakayama, and world-renowned directors Oliver Stone of the United States, Li Xaofeng of China, and Bahman Ghobadi of Iran.

Following the ceremony, this year's opener "Glass Garden," a Korean mystery fantasy directed by Shin Suwon who also made "Pluto" (2012) and "Madonna" (2015), was screened for its world premiere. Moon Geun-young stars in it. It became the third Korean film ever to open BIFF after "Always" in 2011 and "A Quiet Dream" in 2016. "Glass Garden" is about a hurt and abandoned bioenergetics researcher who takes refuge in a glass garden in the forest to continue her study of artificial blood using chloroplasts.

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