Based in Asia’s first UNESCO-designated city of film, the Busan Asian Film School is an international film business academy. Since it opened in 2017, the school has offered practical education, with a curriculum includes hands-on filmmaking courses such as project development and production, as well as courses on financing, distribution and marketing.
While leading film institutes in South Korea, such as the Korean Academy of Film Arts and production house Myung Films Institute, train students in various disciplines, including directing, screenwriting, producing, shooting and editing, the AFiS particularly focuses on producing and international co-production.
“We aim to help our students understand what a producer does in feature film production, because producers’ roles are very important in promoting co-productions in Asia,” said Han Sun-hee, professor and dean of the AiFS’ international film business academy course. “In Asia, AiFS is the only film institute that puts so much emphasis on producing in the film business.”
Also, unlike other institutes where students graduate with completed feature films of their own, the AFiS encourages its students come up with a project and gives them opportunities to pitch the project at the AFiS Project Pitching session during the Busan International Film Festival.
The school also differs from other longer-standing film institutes, which are mostly for aspiring Korean filmmakers, in demographics: AFiS selects about 20 students from all around Asia to enter the course every year.
“The majority of our students are in their early thirties and have fine career [already]. Among some 20 students, almost half of them are currently working as production staff, line producers and producers, while the other half can write scripts and direct their own films,” Han explained.
Alumni have formed the New Asian Producers Network, an association of young and aspiring Asian film producers, in order to share ideas that dovetail with international trends, based on each member’s experience and expertise. In collaboration with the AFiS, the organization also aims to discover diverse Asian content, help build the development of a reasonable production system in Asia and explore alternative business models. Some of the members have returned home and have been committed to educating young film talent in their own countries, while others have founded cinemas for independent filmmakers. White Screen Cinema, an independent cinema in Brunei, is an example.
Among some 40 alumni, Sri Lankan Sumudu Malalagama participated in the Open Door Lab, the producer training workshop of the Locarno International Film Festival, and was awarded a grant from the Torino Film Lab for her project “Heli; The Daughter.” “Heli” also won a development grant from the BIFF in 2017. “Worm and Widow,” a co-production project being handled by two alumni from Brunei and Korea, won a cash prize of $13,000 at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival’s project market.
Enhancing the possibilities of inter-Asian co-productions is also one of the school’s main goals. Based in a city with great filmmaking environment that the majority of Korean productions benefit from, and a festival best-known for its programming of Asian films, the AFiS can nurture young Asian talents, help them build up the industry network for future co-productions, and bring them back to the city to actually shoot their films.
“Because AFiS will keep producing talented Asian producers as years go by, we expect to see more and more Asian projects come to Busan and use the city’s location,” Lee Seung-ui, head of the BFC’s production support department, told Variety.
The AFiS is currently recruiting fellows for the 2019 course.
“We want candidates who are knowledgeable about the film industry of their own countries and the film history. Also, we hope to see how their experiences at the AFiS can help them in their future as filmmakers,” said Han.