Over the past few years, the Busan Intl. Film Festival has been accused by some of focusing more on expansion and paying less attention to quality. At first glance BIFF 2012 with 304 films from 75 countries (including 93 world premieres) unspooling over two weekends seems as if it is continuing the bigger is better philosophy.

But it won’t all be about size, says Busan festival director Yong-kwan Lee. “It’s true that we’ve become bigger but that doesn’t mean that our strengths, such as serious talks with directors and academic discussions, have disappeared altogether. As the festival got bigger, so has the media attention,” Lee says, noting that this year, the festival is launching a daily magazine featuring reviews of some 80 films screened at Busan by a group of domestic and international critics.

The festival director is excited about an initiative at the Asian Film Market called Book to Film. The program allows 10 writers to pitch their novels — chosen from 49 entries — to producers, who have the opportunity to buy the material.

Even as the 17th edition of the fest is readied, Lee is looking ahead to Busan’s 20th, when the Busan Cinema Center — in its sophomore year hosting the festival — will be firmly established as home, with year-round programming from Asian auteurs, European directors, Korean independent films and classic Korean films on its four screens.

There are also plans to launch a cable TV channel in March, showing BIFF programming from past and present.

“We have archive material from the past 16 years, not just films but also talks with great directors and actors that will be shown on the channel. There are also plans to launch a dedicated pay-per-view BIFF film website,” Lee says.

“Right now a busy road stands between the Busan Cinema Center and the Su-young River. We’ve secured the budget to build an underpass so that the road can become a park, linking the center to the riverfront. The plan is to have expansive park area, with a riverside promenade before the 19th BIFF,” he says.

Construction is set to begin next fall.

The Asian Film Market is also set to move again next year from the current location at the Bexco center to the Busan Cinema Center.

Lee feels a sense of frustration about the relative lack of interest in Asian cinema in South Korea. “We’re seeing a huge surge of interest in Korean cultural content across the world these days,” he says, adding that it’s the obligation of the festival to promote not only Korean films but also Asian cinema.

Indeed, the fest opens with “Cold War,” a crimer from Hong Kong. The opening ceremony will be emceed by China’s Tang Wei, who has a huge following in South Korea. North Korean comedy “Comrade Kim Goes Flying” will be screened following approval from the South’s Unification Ministry.

Fest Traveler: Busan Intl. Film Festival 2012
Big fest flaunts arty ambitions | Busan flavored with strong Chinese flavor | Mart beefs up numbers | Project Market travels beyond Asia for lineup