Busan: Asia’s Biggest Film Festival overcomes hurdles
Busan International Film Festival has grown to be one of the most significant film festivals in Asia. After its establishment in 1996, BIFF has focused on introducing and supporting new Asian directors and their films. This year marked the festival’s 20th anniversary but inspite of rejoicing over a much deserved victory lap, the celebrated South Korean Festival had to overcome hurdles.
The trouble began when festival director Lee Yong-kwan refused to head political demands to cancel the world premiere of The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol, a trenchant guerrilla documentary about government incompetence and media collusion in the aftermath of the April 2014 South Korean ferry disaster that left more than 300 passengers, mostly high school children, dead. After the film was showcased, the mayor of Busan called for Lee’s dismissal. This lead to to a heated debate on the subject of BIFF’s artistic freedom. Thereafter, the Korean Film Council nearly halved the festival’s annual funding for the event. The numbers dropped down from $1.3 million in 2014 to $730,720 in 2015.
In the wake of BIFF’s struggle against censorship, Cannes Film Festival chief Thierry Fremaux, Venice’s Alberto Barbera and renowned filmmakers like Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul supported BIFF’s artistic integrity by talking about the issue. On the domestic front, actress Kang Soo-yeon took a step forward to serve as the festival co-director, bagging up public support for the big 20th anniversary edition. Also, the best local film studios and distributors including CJ Entertainment, Lotte Entertainment, Showbox/Mediaplex and NEW are said to have pledged sponsorship packages to overcome the hurdles faced by BIFF.
“It’s most important for the festival to continue showing great movies and helping discover and foster talent — but with long-term goals,” says Kang. “This year is Busan’s 20th anniversary, but the next 20 years are much more important.”