PUSAN — As Asia-focused as the Pusan Intl. Film Festival (PIFF) is, a strong European presence under the umbrella of the European Film Promotion (EFP) has become a tradition for the event, which wrapped on Oct. 10. This year’s European push at Pusan came at a time when increased production in most Asian territories and closer cooperation among some of them threatens to crowd out European arthouse fare from already congested Asian cinemas.
Together with the fest, which selects the films, EFP brought 60 films from 22 European countries to Pusan, counting shorts, documentaries and coproductions with European entities. The Hamburg-based umbrella organization of 23 national film promotion organizations flew in 18 directors, producers and writers of films shown during the festival. Costs are shared by the PIFF and EFP.
“The PIFF has become Europe’s bridgehead in Asia,” explains EFP General Manager Renate Rose. This outpost has become even more important as sales of European films to most Asian territories encounter stiff competition from rapidly increasing numbers of locally produced quality films.
A case in point: in Asia’s biggest market, Japan, smaller and specialized distribs have recently concentrated on Korean and other Asian films, passing up some European pics which would have been more attractive only a couple of years ago.
“Korea’s industry alone is so vibrant and comes up with interesting films,” says one distrib from Tokyo. “Add to this new Chinese, Thai and Iranian productions, some of which have potential in Japan because of cultural affinities, and European films loose their luster.”
Thorsten Schaumann of powerful sales agent Bavaria Intl., who regularly attends the Pusan fest, adds: “The cake is only so big. If one slice gets bigger, others have to shrink.”
He remains optimistic, though, as he sees continuing interest in European films which have either won awards at important festivals or have been major box office successes on their home turf.
Bavaria Intl. has sold Germany’s hit of the year “Good Bye Lenin!” in most Asian territories. “Nowhere in Africa,” directed by Germany’s Caroline Link sold equally well. “But more specialized films without festival kudos will increasingly fall through,” Schaumann believes. “That’s why the presence of the EFP at Pusan is more important than ever.”
Details are to be announced toward the end of the year, but, according to Renate Rose, an expansion of funding by the European Union’s MEDIA program, which finances the EFP, is being discussed. Once agreed upon by all member organizations, it would allow sales agents to accompany their films shown at festivals.
“This will lead to a much stronger business-oriented presence in Pusan, as well as at other festivals we cover,” says Rose.
Given the fact the PIFF is gradually expanding its so-called Industry Center into a real film market, albeit for now limited to Asian companies, this move would be welcomed as a timely shot in the arm for Europe’s dwindling cinematic presence in Asia.