South Korean Film Makers To Boycott Busan Film Festival

Michael Song, April 18, 2016, 8:32 a.m.

A group of Korean filmmakers have declared a boycott of the 21st Busan International Film Festival set for this October, raising the possibility that Asia’s largest film event may not take place at all this year. 

The decision is the result of an industry-wide survey conducted in the week of April 1 via social media and telephone, the Emergency Committee for Defending BIFF’s Independence announced Monday. The emergency committee, which has been calling for the film festival’s artistic and operational autonomy from the Busan Metropolitan Government, is comprised of nine major filmmakers’ associations in Korea.

Over half of each association’s members responded to the survey, and over 90 percent of those who responded were in favor of the boycott, according to a statement by the emergency committee. 

“The bulk of Korea’s film producers, writers and directors belong to these associations. This boycott is a huge move that represents the majority opinion of the Korean film industry,” said Seo Eun-jeong, secretary general of the Korea Film Producers Association. “Many actors are also on board.”

The boycott follows Busan District Court’s ruling last week that the 68 new appointments in the BIFF’s advisory committee are invalid. The appointments had been made by the festival’s former executive director Lee Yong-kwan in an attempt to gain majority votes in amending BIFF’s bylaws. 

“It is the first time in 10 years that the film industry is moving forward with such a unified front, the first time since it protested against the screen quota cutback for Korean movies in 2006,” the emergency committee said of the boycott. “This is proof that the film industry sees the restriction of freedom of expression and damage to the festival’s autonomy as serious problems.”

For the time being, BIFF is still going to proceed with the necessary preparations, which includes inviting foreign filmmakers, its public relations representative said Monday. A budget of 12.3 billion won ($10.7 million) has already been allotted to the festival. 

BIFF has been mired in a protracted dispute with Busan Metropolitan Government since 2014 when the festival screened a controversial documentary, going against Busan Mayor Suh Byung-soo’s demand that it not be shown at the event. 

The emergency committee last month urged for the Busan Metropolitan Government’s cooperation in amending BIFF’s bylaws so as to guarantee the festival’s artistic freedom and operational autonomy from the city, which is currently the festival’s largest financial sponsor. BIFF’s bylaws also stipulate that Busan’s mayor automatically assumes the position of BIFF Organizing Committee chairman. 

The emergency committee had also asked that Busan withdraw a preliminary injunction filed to nullify the appointment of the new advisory committee members. 

“Busan Metropolitan Government has not complied with any of our requests,” the emergency committee said. “It is regretful that we have to take such drastic measures just six months before the festival, but we refuse to attend if BIFF’s freedom ... is not guaranteed. We hope the Busan Metropolitan Government will uphold the principle of ‘supporting without intervening.’”


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