Busan film festival to kick off amid unsolved dispute
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By Shim Sun-ah
BUSAN, Oct. 12 (Yonhap) -- The Busan International Film Festival will open 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.
This file photo shows the opening ceremony of the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) held in the southeastern South Korean port city of Busan on Oct. 6, 2016. (Yonhap)
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 will co-host the opening ceremony, which is set to begin at the Busan Cinema Center at 7 p.m. following a red carpet event. Im replaced actress Kim Ha-neul who had to pull out due to her recent pregnancy.
The opening film is "Glass Garden," a Korean mystery fantasy directed by Shin Suwon, who also made "Pluto" (2012) and "Madonna" (2015).
"Glass Garden" is about two characters: an oddball bioenergetics researcher who studies artificial blood using a chloroplast in a glass garden in the forest alone and an unknown novelist writing a story about her.
The film, which stars Moon Geun-young, will get its world premiere at the festival. It will be the third Korean film ever to open BIFF after "Always" in 2011 and "A Quiet Dream" in 2016.
The festival will close with Taiwanese director Sylvia Chang's "Love Education." The film metaphorically depicts China's modern history through the lives of three women of different generations.
This marks the first time in the fest's history that works by female filmmakers have been chosen to open and close the event.
Ten films will be screened at the New Currents main competition section for up-and-coming Asian directors. The 10 comprise three from South Korea, two each from China and India, and one each from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Iran. Oliver Stone is the head juror of the New Currents Award.
In the Gala Presentation section for introducing the latest works from established directors, four films will be screened. They are "Butterfly Sleep" by Korean director Jeong Jae-eun, "Mother!" by American director Darren Aronofsky, "Narratage" by Japan's Isao Yukisada and "The Third Murder" by Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda.
This year's festival will include a retrospective screening of eight South Korean films led by '60s movie star Shin Seong-il, who is currently struggling with lung cancer. Among the films are "The Barefooted Young" (1964), "A Day Off" (1968) and "Gilsotteum" (1985).
Various memorial events are planned throughout the fest to remember late Kim Ji-seok. He was a founding member and executive programmer of the Busan film festival, which was launched in 1996.
Foremost of these memorials is the new Kim Jiseok Award in the Window on Asian Cinema category, which highlights major current trends in Asian film. It will honor two winners among 10 world premieres to be shown in the section. Each film will be awarded a cash prize of US$10,000. A memorial night and the screening of a memorial video are also part of the events planned.
Virtual reality will be a highlight for this year's festival.
The organizing committee recently signed a contract with Seoul-based Barunson Co., a leading content producer in Korea, to co-host "VR Cinema in BIFF."
Many international film festivals have lately screened movies produced with VR technology in order to broaden the spectrum of the films they present. But this will be the first time BIFF has hosted such screenings. Thirty-six VR movies in different genres, such as drama, documentary and animation, will be shown at a separate screening venue in the Busan Cinema Center.
Also, a VR conference will be held at the Busan Exhibition & Convention Center (BEXCO) on the sidelines of the Asian Film Market, which runs from Oct. 14-17.
BIFF will this year launch "Platform Busan," a network of independent Asian filmmakers comprising around 150 filmmakers from 19 Asian countries. It will provide a chance for the filmmakers to build solidarity, receive filmmaking education and exchange useful information on making inroads into the global market, according to the organizers.