Fest chief bullish on Korea’s bear market

Kim Dong-ho tubthumps bigger and better event

As anyone who’s been to the Pusan Intl. Film Festival knows, topper Kim Dong-ho is a dynamo, seemingly at several places at once, charming festivalgoers and filmmakers alike at parties and screenings, even popping into offices at the Asian Film Market. He recently talked with Variety about problems PIFF and the Korean film biz have faced, and ways the fest is adapting.

Variety: This is the biggest festival lineup ever. What’s new for this year?

Kim: Last year there were some problems in managing the festival. Three presidential election candidates came to the festival unexpectedly, it poured right before the opening ceremony, and the PIFF pavilion collapsed due to heavy rain. But last year, we attracted the largest audiences ever and offered the largest number of world premieres and international premieres.

This year, we’re putting in our best efforts to make up for the problems and at the same time increasing world premieres. I think there are more wonderful films around the world than ever, so we invited the largest number of films we could. I believe this year’s festival will be much better than any other year in terms of quality and content.

V: The Korean film industry is still suffering from a downturn. Do you think this has impacted the festival?

Kim: Not specifically. However, I think one of the roles and responsibilities of PIFF is to promote Korean films, so we’re preparing various programs focusing on the local industry. For example, we’re involved in funds such as Asia Culture Technology Investment (ACTI), for which Busan and Busan banks have raised $15 million to support films that are being developed that use Busan as the subject or location. PIFF is currently involved with the fund in a way as a shareholder, taking up a role in selecting projects.

V: Asian films weren’t very well represented at Cannes and Venice fests this year — do you think 2009 will see Asian films making a comeback on the world stage?

Kim: PIFF has been concentrating on finding ways to revive Asian cinema and support Asian film production, which has resulted in such programs as Asian Film Academy and Asia Cinema Fund. We supported 27 projects in production and post-production, and the size of films that receive our support will increase. I think this is one of the differences of PIFF from other film festivals, in that we’re doing these things very actively.

V: Why does PIFF need these subsidiary programs? 

Kim: There are many film festivals in Asia, but there are few festivals that benefit Asian film production in a substantial way. As the representative film festival in Asia, we think that we should play a big role (in promotion and production).

It is not enough and ineffective only to deliver films and screen them. At least, it would be better if we could set up a sort of institutional infrastructure for them to secure distributing their films at least in Korea by way of screenings at PIFF.

For this purpose, the city of Busan launched a distribution company named Balcon last year and acquired distribution rights of 40 Asian films. We hope Asian films will be revitalized from production to distribution through the infrastructures and supplementary programs that we’re operating. These are important roles and functions of the festival.

V: The Asian Film Market was a bit slow last year. What are you expecting this year?

Kim: We gathered opinions about the market after the festival last year. A majority said they wouldn’t like to see the market expanded. Instead, they advised that we should adjust the market to the overall size and characteristics of the festival. We decided not to expand the market but to concentrate on attracting influential companies and people, focusing on Asian films and Asian co-production projects.

V: How do you evaluate this year’s Pusan Promotion Plan?

Kim: I think PPP has played a extremely successful role in the evolution of Asian cinema. It’s invited great projects this year as well. PPP is still enjoying its status as an attractive project market for lots of Asian directors and producers throughout Asian and non-Asian countries, as well as for the Western film industry, which is looking for Asian partners to co-invest and co-develop international projects. Every year the number of submitted projects is increasing. The more projects submitted to PPP, the better the quality those project are.

V: Although PIFF is one of the central forces promoting Asian cinema, do you fear ghettoizing Asian films? Isn’t it necessary for PIFF to keep and extend more solid and steady relationships with the European and American film industries?

Kim: Absolutely. I don’t think we have any difficulties to achieve those purposes. However, in the past, we have always invited Western films that already showed somewhere else, while focusing our energy on Asian world premieres. But this year we invited more world premiere films from non-Asian countries than ever.

Many film festivals in the world are competing to secure world premieres, and this has become an important issue at (festival org) FIAPF (Federation Intl. des Assns. de Producteurs de Films). Because it is the nature of film festivals to induce as many world-premiere films as possible, FIAPF has prepared a sort of document about this issue to prevent excessive competition and adjust the problem among festivals.

V: Construction of the new PIFF center is under way, isn’t it?

Kim: Exactly. We will hold a groundbreaking ceremony of the center during the festival this year. Dubbed Dureraum, the center will be a 10-story building offering a large multipurpose stage, three screening theaters, convention hall and educational facilities. The budget is $162 million. It will be completed in 2011.



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