Busan Intl. Film Festival embarks on campaign of change

Having changed its name from Pusan, the Busan Intl. Film Festival (BIFF) has embarked on a campaign of major change and innovation, marking the era after the reign of Kim Dong-ho, the influential previous festival director.

On March 23, Busan City held a special ceremony to celebrate the completion of the topping off of the Busan Film Center. Dubbed Dureraum, the center, designed by Austrian architect Coop Himmelblau, is scheduled to open on Oct. 16, in time for the 16th Busan fest. It is located in Centum City, a multi-use urban development area designed as a major landmark.

Industyites also expect its completion be a big turning point in the history of the festival. In addition to moving the venue to the Center, the organizers have decided to shift other industry-related events to the nearby Busan Exhibition and Convention Center (Bexco), including the Asian Film Market (AFM), the Asian Project Market (APM, renamed from Pusan Promotion Plan) and the Busan Intl. Film Commission and Industry Showcase (Bifcom). All were previously held in separate hotels along Haeundae beach; now they’ll be in one location.

The fest and Bifcom have also decided to expand their collaboration this year by launching the Busan Film Commission Fund within the fest’s Asia Cinema Fund, as well as by co-managing the Asian Film Academy.

“The Asian Film Policy Forum will also be co-hosted by the Asian Film Market this year,” says Oh Seok-geun, director of the Busan Film Commission. “It was run separately by the commission during Bifcom and BIFF in the past, but now we are trying to maximize their synergy by converging various events during the festival.”

This change might be the climax of Busan’s long-term urban development plan to remake the city as a “cinema city.” However, one problem has yet to be resolved: funding for the new center.

Its construction budget has been increased four times since the intitial plans and now stands at $151 million — even as the city government has pushed forward with its ambition to build the biggest cineplex in Asia.

With the national government deciding to limit its subsidy for the center’s construction to $55 million, there have been debates over how to raise the additional coin.

Right now the cash-strapped Busan government’s most urgent priority is to figure out how to operate the center and recoup its investment. To that end the fest has funded research to find additional ways to use the center and revitalize the local biz.

BIFF also has signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s Zonbo Media and is eyeing projects such as starting a film acquisition and distrib business, as well as launching a cable channel. As the festival expands its role role in business, some critics are joking that the fest should change its name to BIFF Inc.

South Korea’s film industry is highly centralized in Seoul. Competing with the country’s capital, Busan is desperately searching for ways to lure production in order to generate economic ripple effects. If it doesn’t succeed in this effort, the government won’t be able to escape criticism from citizens who have paid taxes for the center’s construction.

Meanwhile BIFF remains the central force in the city’s effort to become a global cinema center — a burden not shared by any other film festival on earth.

SCOUT & ABOUT: KOREA:
Korean incentives boosted to lure outside biz | Debate rages over new film center | Shooting on the peninsula

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