Korean Industry To Vote on Boycott of Busan Festival

KANG Soo youn Busan Film Festival BIFF
PHOTOLUDENS ryuminhyeong

UPDATED: Korean film makers Tuesday indicated that they will call off their boycott of the Busan International Film Festival.

The apparent decision means that the 21st edition festival will go ahead in October, albeit on a smaller scale than in previous years.

The move follows the acceptance on Friday (July 22) of amendments to the festival’s regulations. Those changes were followed by meetings on Monday between chairman Kim Dong-ho and festival director Kang Soo-youn with industry representatives in order to end the stand off. Kim was drafted in as chairman in May as the first concrete step in the healing process.

Organizers of the boycott, the ‘Korean Film Group’s Emergency Committee for Defending BIFF’s Independence’ said that it would now halt its action. While discussions will continue, the group called the changed regulations “a victory for film makers.”

However, the Emergency Committee was headed for a definitive vote on the matter later this week.

A separate newsletter, signed by Kim and Kang and headed “Finally Independence” was also circulated by the festival on Tuesday.

The festival has been in turmoil since October 2014 when the city mayor Seo Byung-soo objected to the programming of politically controversial documentary “The Truth Shall Not Sink with Sewol” (a.k.a. “Diving Bell),” and since moved to force festival director Lee Yong-kwan out of his job. Both Lee and deputy director Jay Jeon have also been charged with embezzlement and fraud.

“We believe that the newly revised regulations largely guarantee the festival’s independence and autonomy and that BIFF’s independence and freedom of expression have been achieved to a  certain extent,” the Emergency Committee said.

While the committee said that it would end the boycott in order to “support the festival’s normalization,” it also noted that Mayor Seo has not apologized and that the legal charges against Lee have not yet been dropped. It will continue to press for these.

The letter from Kim, arguably the most respected person in the Korean industry, and actress turned festival director Kang did not mince its words. It talked of “sabotage” by the city authorities, “political pressure” and “interference.”

“There was a time we even seriously thought about not holding the festival this year to protest against the city government. But we came to conclusion that such a drastic measure won’t solve the problems. We realized that it is our responsibility and duty to have the festival no matter what happens for all cineastes who supported the festival from the beginning,” the letter says. “Putting the festival back on track is our main focus. It is a bit late, but we will try our best to have successful festival this year.”

“As it had been in dark whether the festival can go ahead, our budget sharply decreased, and it was extra difficult to earn sponsorship. This inevitably led to dissolution of the BIFF research center and downsizing of the Asian Film Market,” said Kang on Friday.

The festival is scheduled to run Oct 6-15, 2016.