BUSAN: Ferry Disaster Aftermath Continues to Dominate Fest Forefront

BUSAN – Korean filmmakers Friday held a press conference in the margins of the Busan festival calling on the government to allow a high-level government investigation into the Sewol ferry disaster in April.

Prominent among the protesters were veteran director Jung Ji-young (“Broken Arrow,” “National Security”), producer Lee Jun-dong (“A Girl at My Door,” “Poetry”) as well as up-and-coming directorial talent, Park Jeong-beom (“Journals of Musan”).

They stood in file each holding a banner urging the passage of a special bill that would set up an enquiry with the powers to investigate and prosecute.

Held on the street outside BIFF Hill, the event was one of the potential flash points of the festival this year. But it passed off peacefully under the eye of BIFF organizers including deputy festival director Jay Jeon and Busan City officials. They stood by but did not attempt to stop the proceedings, or make a comment.

On Monday (Oct. 6) the festival is set to hold the world premiere of an 85-minute documentary “The Truth Shall not Sink with Sewol” despite criticism from the Busan municipal authority which is a major financier of the festival and pressure from the city mayor to remove it from the lineup.

Variety spoke exclusively to the film’s co-director Lee Sang-ho.

What drove you to make the film?
Those outside of Korea may think we’re an advanced country with a full working democracy but in the last 5 years, freedom of speech and freedom of the press have become very restricted. It got to the stage where if you watched Korean news, you’d get further from the truth. Media reports about the sinking of the Sewol were distorted to hide the incompetence of involved agencies.

I reported what I saw on my news website, Gobal News but there were limits to how much we could do. I decided to make a film to reach a wider audience and tell people about politicians who put greed before the basic human instinct to save drowning people.

What was your budget?
We run a tiny Internet-based news website so we didn’t have a set budget. Subscribers to our website contributed and it ended up costing US$189,000.

What is your ultimate goal for the film?
We want to release it and show it in theaters, but we know that cinema chains will be pressured by government agencies. So we’re hoping to have private screenings with cinema societies and civic groups.

Why BIFF?

BIFF is one of the most important film events in Asia and attracts many foreign industry professionals. It also has the Asian Film Market. We were hoping that many foreign film professionals would take an interest in our film.

What is your background?
I worked at MBC, one of Korea’s biggest broadcasters, as an investigative reporter. I uncovered a corruption scandal involving the head of the Samsung group and two presidential candidates. Because of state control, many of my reports were not allowed to be aired. I was fired, and have operated my own news website since.

Do you get threats?
On a daily basis. I’m in the middle of my 88th law suit. A group of National Assemblymen have sued me for “killing the ferry disaster victims by giving out false reports and thereby confusing the rescue efforts.” I’ve been a victim of cyber terror attacks by extreme right-wing groups. But I am extremely active online as I think hiding will only worsen the situation.

How do you feel about the current controversy involving your film at BIFF.
I felt like they were giving me, someone who has nowhere to go, a temporary shelter. I know BIFF is being given a hard time as a result, but I’m sure people with a conscience from around the world will prevent any harm coming to the BIFF organizers.

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