Growing Busan Film Festival Keeps Focus on Local Talent

The launch of new Asian cinema remains a priority

Vara A Blessing Busan Film Festival

When a festival nears the 20-year mark, many feel certain expectations have to be met. The Busan Film Festival, which will open its 18th edition Oct. 3, is no exception.

Busan seems to have taken the “bigger is better” philosophy to heart, expanding to 300 titles and so many sidebars that films can get lost. Some ask whether the fest has become too big for its own good.

Those running the festival do not seem to have a shred of doubt about its mission.

“The issue of identity is something that BIFF has thought long and hard about,” says festival director Lee Yongkwan. “Our focus has always been to be an event where the best of Asian cinema is introduced to the rest of the world, as well for Asian filmmakers to come together with industry professionals from elsewhere. It’s also where Asian filmmakers get to know each other over cups of soju by the beach.”

Lee is especially happy about this year’s edition. “We’ll be screening over 30 films to which BIFF has given financial support over the past few years,” he says. BIFF provides nearly $100,000 of financial support to Asian cinema per year.

Lee is also proud of BIFF’s support for Asian arthouse cinema. While 2013 has been a smashing year for Korean commercial pics, he says it has also been a great year for local auteurs, with black-and-white drama “Jiseul” grossing more than $910,000; and the doc “Project Cheonan Ship,” which opened on Sept. 5, on 11 screens. Shin Yeon-shick’s “The Russian Novel,” on 10 screens, is tracking in the top 20.

“BIFF has always been and will continue to be a platform for indie filmmakers,” Lee says. “We know how hard things are for them. We want to be a place where their voices are heard by government policymakers and those in the industry.”

Indeed, BIFF has three programs that support Asian cinema; “Jiseul” was among the beneficiaries.

Asian film programmer Kim Ji-seok says the festival has to play a strong role in telling the story of Asian film history. This year it will host a retrospective of Central Asian New Wave films. “We’ve
gone back to the forgotten films of the 1980s and 1990s, many by little known directors, or films that have almost never been seen,” Kim says.

The fest’s opening night movie illustrates BIFF’s commitment to Asian cinema: “Vara: A Blessing” by Bhutan’s Khyentse Norbu. The closing night film, “The Dinner,” an independent feature by Kim Dong-hyun, also offers encouragement to Koreans who are working outside the local studio system.