Busan Market Holds Firm, Expands Production Support Functions

Busan market
Picture by Alexandra Sasha Don

Busan’s Asian Film Market, which opened for business yesterday, continued its transformation from film rights market to generalized — and sub-regional— commerce platform. It now also contains pitching, project funding, locations expo and virtual reality elements.

Held, once again, within the cavernous halls of Bexco’s #2 exhibition hall, the market does not lack for space. But it may have been squeezed by its temporal proximity to two other major entertainment markets, the Tokyo Film Festival with its related film and ancillary markets, and the American Film Market (AFM).

“My concern was that due to the 10-day Chuseok holiday, the Asian Film Market dates are pushed back right against [Tokyo’s] TIFFCOM,” said Daniel Kim, general manager of the Asian Film Market. TIFFCOM gets under way Oct. 24-26, while the season’s biggest mart, the American Film Market, runs Nov. 1-8 in Los Angeles.

Despite Kim’s concern, the number of Japanese sales company-exhibitors in Busan has not decreased.
Gaga, Kadokawa, Nikkatsu, Shochiku and Toei are operating Bexco booths. “[TIFFCOM] has a strong TV and animation market, but many Japanese sales companies have noted note that Busan has more film-centered buyers,” he said.

The number of screenings — 73 screenings for a total of 68 films — is fractionally higher than last year, but down on 2014 and 2015.

Despite the recent holidays, and the wider threats to the Busan festival, Korean companies are also reasonably well-represented in their home court. Top Korean sales companies CJ Entertainment, Lotte Entertainment, Showbox, Contents Panda (NEW), Finecut and M-Line are all present.

Few, however, have much in the way of new movies to sell and all the lavish corporate parties that in former years doubled up as production-sales-distribution slate announcements have disappeared. That may reflect the law on corporate hospitality introduced last year as well as decisions to hold off new product launches until the American Film Market, or the ongoing, partial boycott of the Busan festival by some Korean guilds. With that in mind, the Korean majors don’t want to be seen as overly supportive of the Busan market. A spokesman for CJ told Variety that the company consulted with talent representatives before deciding to attend.

Lotte is using the Busan market to launch a handful of new titles: web cartoon-based fantasy drama “Along With the Gods — the Two Words”; period drama “Heung-boo: The Revolutionist”; and fantasy romance “Be With You.”

Underlining, the Busan film market’s status as a regional event, leading Korean indie Finecut is saving its film launches for L.A. “Our new titles are aimed at a global market,” said company principal Suh Young-joo.

Beyond the substantial Korean and Japanese contingents, Busan’s wider Asian role is weaker. From Asia’s biggest theatrical market, only four mainland Chinese companies have booths. That may reflect China’s current diplomatic spat with South Korea and its boycott of Korean cultural goods, as well as Chinese companies’ preference for doing business from their home events.

More of a surprise, Hong Kong sales agents, long the vector for sales of Chinese movie titles, number just five this year. Though none of the biggest are operating from booths, Pegasus Entertainment is a market newcomer. Hong Kong domiciled Asian Shadows, which specializes in indie and art titles, is a keen Busan supporter. “This is always one of our strongest markets,” said Anne-Sophie Lehec, head of sales and festivals.

Similarly, those European companies that make the effort to travel have largely undimmed views of the event. “The interest of European world sales companies in the [Busan] market is unbroken, even though the festival is experiencing very rocky times,” said Doris Bandhold, of European Film Promotion, which supports talent traveling with completed European films. The European Union’s umbrella stand is making its 20th appearance in Busan.

The market’s newer functions are largely aimed at oiling the machinery in the earlier stages of production and development. They include: the Entertainment Intellectual Property Market, with its two sub-strands Book to Film and E-IP Pitching; the Asian Network of Documentary; and the well-established Asian Project Market that was once known as the Pusan Promotion Plan.

They are supplemented by  the Copyright Forum and Film Fund Talk conferences. The new VR strand is, inevitably, part conference, part exhibition. Some 30 titles will screen at a theater within BIFF Hill, while Bexco is home to two case study presentations today and a state of the industry conference on Monday.

“Though the increase is not very significant, we see more number of participants in the market, including companies selling IP, than in the previous year,” said Busan’s Kim.