Q&A: Lee Yong-kwan

Fest Traveler: Busan Intl. Film Festival

How did you spend the year after the former festival director Kim Dong-ho retired?
Hectic. I visited a lot of international film festivals with Mr. Kim for 6 months and completed the change-over. First of all, I was quite nervous for fear of causing Mr. Kim any trouble. Secondly, realized afresh that Mr. Kim achieved greatly in elevating the festival to international level. I haven’t been to film festivals around the world that much before. But I’ve got to understand that his personal efforts and results were huge. I began the festival with him 16 years ago and then worked as co-directors since 2007, but now I’m a bit afraid how I could continue it.

Does Busan city expect a lot from you as a new director?
They’re worrying about me rather than expecting me. The city officials were shocked when Mr. Kim suddenly announced his will to retirement earlier than planned. As co-directors, we shared roles in a sense that Mr. Kim represented the festival abroad, while I was in charge of building relationships with domestic officials, sponsors and film industry insiders. But during that time, it was true that I could play my role smoothly on the condition that Mr. Kim still served the festival. After his retirement, many people have been anxious about me whether I can manage all the things alone.

What was the most challenging thing for you preparing the festival?
One thing I really disliked was any doubts that the festival can’t secure enough budget after Kim’s retirement. I wanted to show the festival could be stable financially even without him. Luckily, sponsorships are the best compared with previous years. Almost 3 million dollars is sponsored out of the total 9.2 million budget.

What would you like to do with the new Busan Cinema Center?
The Center is tremendous both in its aesthetic aspect and practical function. There are lots of empty spaces, but the spaces can be creatively transformed and used in accordance with the festival events. I thought the spaces are useless at first, but got to realized that they are something throwing questions to us about how we could utilize them. This year, we open two exhibits on disappearing theaters in Southeast Asia and in Busan. Isn’t it an interesting idea that those exhibits are held in the state-of-the-art theater? It is an important task for us to use the spaces properly. It could be fun, but there are problems of money and creativity.

In terms of the Asian Film Market, what is your plan on the industry side?
We expect remarkable synergy effects by moving the Market venue into the BEXCO. It’s true that there have been worries about the necessity of the market as it was a bit slow in the past. However, we want it to be more successful alongside the representative film festival in Asia and decided to put more budget to build it up more steadily by expanding its size. The critical point is to lure Japanese and Chinese companies. Notably, there have been increase in the number of participating companies from Japan. With the changes in Japan after the disaster, it is a new phenomenon that they go to Korea and China more actively.

You also exchanged an MOU with China’s Zonbo Media earlier this year. Is there anything you currently prepare along with China?
I’ve put great efforts for a few years to build up good relationship with Chinese film industry, national organization and academia. China will keep initiatives in the Asian film industry, and co-productions between Korea and China will grow as well. What Chinese people want us is quite clear. They are eager for our talents and production skills, and want to make new films by combining Korea’s human assets with their money. I want to make the festival to be a gateway for Korean talents and companies to advance into the Chinese market, in collaboration with the Korean Film Council. There will be some big events announcing new Korea-China coproduction projects during the festival, including helmer Hur Jin-ho’s Asian Project Market entry “Dangerous Liaison”, which is entirely funded by Zonbo Media.

The festival also launches a big international conference on cinema studies this year, the Busan Cinema Forum. Is that because you’ve also been working as a film professor at the Chung-Ang University in Seoul?
BIFF was initiated by three film critics, including me. And even Mr.Kim was also a researcher on administration policy. But it’s been a while that I wrote film criticism. I feel as if I lose my identity. I’ve always thought what we lack in the Korean film culture and industry is academic studies on cinema. However, with the completion of the new Busan Cinema Center, we decided to open a conference and to make the building an agora for serious talks on film and its industry. For the purpose, we invite a lot of film scholars and experts on Asian films. Based on the forum, I also want to publish film books in order to provide rich sources to young students. It is necessary to lay the foundation for education to cultivate new talents and let them use the Busan Cinema Center throughout a year. It’s one of my dream to form a trinity of festival, market and academia.