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Busan: Festival Director Kang Soo-youn Hails 21st BIFF a ‘Miracle’

“The fact that we successfully managed to host this year’s edition against all odds itself is a miracle,” Busan Film Festival director Kang Soo-youn told Variety.

The two-year struggle between festival organizers and city authorities ended up costing the festival in terms of lost sponsorship and lower star power. It also tore the local film industry into two.

“We had to largely downsize the Asian Film Market and skip sidebar events, because we didn’t manage enough sponsorship,” said Kang. She added that there were more practical difficulties. “In the morning of Oct. 5, I woke up, feeling that the hotel was shaking. I went straight to the Haeundae beach in the storm to check the BIFF Village only to witness debris floating in the sea. The first thing that came to my mind was ‘maybe we’re not meant to make it happen this year’.”

All events that were originally set at the damaged BIFF Village were relocated to the Busan Cinema Center. That had the effect of reinforcing the Festival Center as a hub for BIFF visitors.

Similarly, Kang said the Korean film industry’s boycott ended up doing the festival some good, even though it had been a hindrance to preparations.

“Those who are still boycotting us are also our supporters,” said Kang. “The act of boycott has largely helped create a public opinion in favor of the BIFF, both locally and internationally. The international film industries’ support was what make the miracle happen in a very difficult situation where we had less than two months to prepare, under our first chairman from the non-government sector,” she said. “[The remaining boycotters are] supporting our independence in their own way, by showing that they won’t support us unless the authorities give us freedom of expression in terms of programming.”

The actress-turned-festival director, however, was skeptical about the festival’s financial independence from the government.

“We definitely need the money from the city and central government,” she said. “Some say we should launch more revenue-making businesses to secure our own budget, but I think that would weaken the BIFF’s identity as a film festival, a launchpad for young, rising Asian auteurs.”

Kang says the budget from the government for the next edition has yet to be confirmed. “Everything will have to wait until the festival wraps,” she said. Regarding personnel, Kang said she would need Kim Dong-ho, the newly appointed festival chairman, for another few years.

“I feel sorry that we had to bring him back, after he had retired with honor,” said Kang. “In fact, Kim was the last person that the city wanted to see in the chairman’s position. […] But he did lots of work to put the BIFF back on track, and there are still a lot more problems to solve. We still need him for next editions.”

The festival will wrap its 10-day journey tomorrow (Oct. 15) with Iraq-Germany-Qatar co-produced “The Dark Wind,” directed by Hussein Hassan.

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