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How the Busan Festival Is Being Nursed Back to Health

Asia’s biggest film festival may be returning to health. The press conferences held in Busan and Seoul on Tuesday were the first official events attended by the Busan International Film Festival’s returning co-founders, Lee Yong-kwan and Jay Jeon, since a toxic cocktail of local and national politics tipped the festival into two years of internal strife and conflict with the Busan city authorities.

Back as chairman of the festival’s board of directors, former festival director Lee proclaimed that 2018 would be a year for “harmony, normalization, and a new leap forward.”

“The Busan Festival is like a patient that needs a surgery, but who is advised by the doctor to wait until his condition is regained, instead of hurrying to be operated. This year should be the turning point,” said Lee. He and advisors have liaised extensively and expect to unveil a long-term plan at the festival’s next general assembly.

“Compared to the previous years, we were behind the schedule by a couple of months this year because new programmers only joined the team at the end of April. In such circumstances, we decided to focus on stability, rather than being overambitious,” said Jeon.

Though most program sections and sidebars remain familiar, a significant change is the launch of the Community BIFF plan, made possible by a 6.5% budget increase to $10.9 million. To promote audience participation and strengthen connections with local film organizations, subsidiary events and programs will be hosted in Nampodong district, near the festival’s old home, but a significant distance from the current Haeundae base. “We will give (this initiative) a try this year, and decide whether to keep going,” said Jeon.
The 10-film Busan Classics section is another new program section. “For young audiences who may become loyal supporters of the Busan Festival in the future, Busan Classics, retrospectives on Lee Jang-ho, and cinema of the Philippines will be a chance to encounter a Zeitgeist that they have never experienced,” Jeon said.

With the co-founding duo’s return, the South Korean film industry has lifted its boycott of the Busan festival. One element that continues to require healing treatment is the relationship between the festival with former chairman Kim Dong-ho and festival director Kang Soo-youn. The pair stepped into the breach for two years when the festival was tearing itself apart, but ended up the target of great animosity.

“I spoke to Kim several times and tried to convince him to this year’s opening ceremony, but he has not given an answer yet. Kang might take even longer time [to be back on good terms]. I believe it is important to have the two back at the festival so that we do not lose our tradition,” said Jeon.

This year’s budget increase is also being used to fund a documentary about the festival’s late executive programmer Kim Ji-seok.“We expect to finish production next year and premiere it in Busan. We will support the film so that it travels to festivals around the world,” said Jeon.

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