On Friday two senior city officials met Lee and asked him to quit. They also delivered a report into the recent running of the festival, which they said was substandard.
Over the weekend, news of the ultimatum sparked a fierce reaction from Korean film makers, who said that the city’s pressure on Lee was retaliation for his allowing the screening of the politicized ferry-sinking documentary “The Truth Shall Not Sink with Sewol (a.k.a. “Diving Bell”).
“It is clear that BIFF needs fundamental reform of its organization and its systems […] The city of Busan requested the festival to suggest its new vision and reformation plan such as renewal of personnel, including the attitude of the current festival leader Lee Yong-kwan,” said Busan city in a statement on Saturday (Jan. 24).
The city found fault with the management for its staff hires, budget execution and lack of transparency in programming. “Festival programmers are to report the progress of program selection to the permanent executive committee, [which includes a city government official],” the statement said, adding that BIFF had not done so.
Twelve local film industry groups – spanning directors’, screenwriters’, producers’ and cinematographers’ guilds, and the Korean Association of Film Critics, have joined a coalition headed by the Korean Film Producers’ Association to demand that the city retract its call for Lee to resign.
“It is normal that politicians do not get involved in programming. Guaranteeing programmers’ selection authority is the most important basis for film festivals to exist,” said a coalition statement issued today.
In online comments, some of the film makers said that if Lee were ousted they would not only boycott future editions of the festival, they would also no longer shoot movies in the city.
Busan not only holds the largest film festival in Asia, the city is building film studios and has already seen the relocation of the Korean Film Council and Film Ratings Board from Seoul.
The festival management also threw its weight behind Lee and against the city government.
“We have not received any official document from the Busan Metropolitan authorities addressing the allegedly malfunctioning. It is unreasonable that Busan’s city government is unilaterally and publicly seeking the resignation of the festival director,” it said in a statement today.
A BIFF executive told Variety: “We feel heavy and absurd, but Lee himself has no intention of resigning, nor is it being considered among the festival executives.”
Lee is current two thirds of the way through a three year contract, scheduled to end in Feb 2016, three months after this year’s 20th edition in October.
He was one of the co-founders of the festival in 1996 and has been programmer, deputy director, co-director with Kim Dong-ho and festival director since the festival’s 16th edition in 2011. According to the festival regulation, the festival director’s dismissal or reappointment are is a matter for a general assembly.
There now appears to be a stand-off, with the city unwilling to outright dismiss Lee.
“It is up to BIFF whether or not to accept the city government’s recommendation,” said vice mayor for administrative affairs Jung Gyung-jin, implying that the city authorities expect BIFF to enact its own reformation strategy.