Asian film industry icon talks about the fest

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In 1995, right after he retired from more than 30 years in the Korean Ministry of Culture, Kim Dong-ho was approached by three cinephiles who suggested creating Korea’s first international film festival in Busan.

Lee Yong-kwan, Jay Jeon and Kim Ji-seok (who are still managing Pusan), asked Kim to mobilize money and power based on his experience as former CEO of Seoul Arts Center as well as his network of associates when he was chairman of the Korean Motion Picture Promotion Corp.

As a lover of arts and culture, the retired administrator began his new life as film festival director and became one of the most recognizable figures in the Asian film industry. Now he is preparing his second retirement, from his 15-year service as one of world’s most successful fest directors.

“In the beginning, we devoted ourselves only to making the festival a success. All the staff members worked together to run the festival without any troubles. As time went by, there arose new goals, and we tried to achieve those goals one by one,” says Kim.

The initial budget of the festival was only $1.9 million, but that’s increased to some $7.5 million. Fifteen years ago, Kim took meetings with everybody from corporate executives to government mavens in order to drum up money.

With the growing demands for cultural freedom since the mid-1990s in Korea, PIFF successfully settled down and became an event beloved by passionate local audiences. PIFF also started to play a role as an industry platform, a place where Asian film mavens could do business.

The festival aimed to cultivate new Korean directors and to promote their films as well as other new Asian films and filmmakers. Some of the filmmakers Pusan has championed include Jia Zhangke, Tsai Ming-liang, Kim Ki-duk, Jafar Panahi and Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

In 1998, the Pusan Promotion Plan was launched to support Asian talent and match it with finance.

“That was (created) to directly support production activities, to contribute develop the Asian film industry,” says Kim.

One of the goals of PIFF was to present new models and business platforms – the Asian Film Market, Asian Cinema Fund and Asian Film Academy were created to support regional films and producers.

“Unlike other festival directors, I’m not involved in programming itself. Instead, I put my efforts into retaining smooth relationships with government, local organizations and film-related agencies. Other duties of mine were to expand networks with many people abroad in the field, as well as to secure enough funds and the budget for the festival,” says Kim.

Kim’s easygoing and open personality has been key to the festival’s success – everyone, from local authorities to auteurs, celebrities and journalists – likes him. Former Rotterdam director Simon Field, Cannes director Thierry Fremaux and Taiwanese helmer Hou Hsiao-sien are among his best friends, drinking with him and helping him grow Pusan.

“With the completion of construction of the new Festival Center next year, PIFF should take a leap into a new era. That would be a job of younger blood who fits into the new ideal of the festival. That’s why I decided to retire this year,” says Kim.

To strengthen the festival’s finances, Kim suggests that it should be incorporated into a separate foundation. “It is necessary for PIFF to raise funds on a basis of foundation, to make it remain stable. But it will take time and money to make it,” says Kim.

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