Fest Traveler: Busan Intl. Film Festival.

It’s been a tough year for the folks running the Busan Intl. Film Festival. Since the retirement of former director Kim Dong-ho, they’ve had to battle critics from both the domestic film industry and the international community that the fest might seriously decline without Kim’s leadership. But the 16th edition of Asia’s largest film festival is ready to leap forward into a new era, with a new name and new headquarters.

Festival director Lee Yong-kwan, taking over from Mr. Kim, as he is affectionately known, gets to play in the completed Busan Cinema Center — planned since 2004, finally breaking ground in 2008. Despite worries over the $137 million construction, the completion was spurred by the city government this year. The festival re-branded itself with the city’s English name Busan (from Pusan) and also renamed its project market, the Pusan Promotion Plan, the Asian Project Market.

The festival geography has shifted from Haeundae and Nampodong to Centum City, which is located three subway stops away from Haeundae. “We have a total five new screens in the center. The theaters in Nampodong are a bit backward to use as screening venues,” says Lee.

The Centum City has been developed as an infrastructure for film industry. Department stores, hotels and production outfits pepper the center along with the Busan Cinema Center and Bexco, the city’s convention center. Asian Film Market, Bifcom and Asian Film Policy will also occupy Bexco, given the little breathing room in the hotel rooms in Haeundae, where they were held in previous years.

Opening with Korean helmer Song Il-gon’s “Always,” 307 films from 70 countries have been invited including 71 features making world premieres. In terms of Asian films, the festival offers a mix of veteran helmers and new talents.

“At a Window on Asian Cinema section, you’ll get to see many new names transfusing fresh blood into the world cinema, such as Philippines’ Adolfo Alix Jr. and Japan’s Ishii Yuya,” says the executive programmer Kim Ji-seok.

“For New Currents, the Asian film competition section, we also tried to broaden our selection scope toward various counties in West Asia and South Asia, with a sense of balance” Kim adds. However, observers note that the selection shows the festival’s preference for Japanese films over other countries, and doesn’t include enough Chinese films, considering the output and economic might of that country.

Nevertheless, the festival has extended itself by launching events and enlarging support programs. There are festival awards, a cash prize for the non-Asian film competition section Flash Forward, and the Asian Cinema Fund. Also new is the Busan Cinema Forum, an academic conference, and World Documentary Exchange (WDE), a documentary network between Europe, America and Asia to open up the possibilities of multinational co-production.

The changes aim to build Busan into a heavyweight cinema center. Waiting for the relocation of the Korean Film Council to Busan in 2013, the festival has started to strengthen collaborations with Kofic. Their aim is to continue the reputation as the representative Asian film festival in the world, as well as to become a gateway for Korean films toward international market.

HIGHLIGHTS

SHIFT IN FOCUS
The Busan Cinema Center will host most screenings and events, shifting the fest’s center from Haeundae and Nampodong to the just-finished $137 million headquarters.

REGIONAL SPOTLIGHT
Korean film “Always” opens the fest while Japanese pic “Chronicle of My Mother,” from Harada Masato, closes the event.

ON THE RED CARPET

Lee Jeong-hyang’s “A Reason to Live,” Luc Besson’s “The Lady,” Peter Chan’s “Wu xia,” Amir Naderi’s “Cut” and Johnnie To’s “Life Without Principle” are among the gala screenings.

EXTRA DIMENSION

Bong Joon-ho’s monster classic “The Host” gets a 3D conversion and a gala screening slot.

TEACHABLE MOMENTS

Master classes scheduled include Isabelle Huppert, who is also the subject of a photo exhibition, Yonfan, Luc Besson and Hirokazu Kore-eda. Huppert, Besson, Yonfan and Kim Ki-duk will also participate in the fest’s hand-printing ceremony, reserved for special honorees.

SCHOOL’S IN SESSION

The BIFF Academy will host various seminars ranging from piracy to 3D to extreme Portuguese cinema.

ASIA FOCUS

As always, BIFF’s programs A Window on Asian Cinema, Korean Cinema Today and New Currents highlight the best of the region’s film fare.

FEST TRAVELER: BUSAN INTL. FILM FESTIVAL
Fest maps new future | Regional leader | Hark made Hong Kong a global force | Q&A: Lee Yong-kwan

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