Lee Yong-Kwan and Jay Jeon Reinstated by Busan Festival

Busan Film Festival
Cheyne Gateley/Variety

Lee Yong-kwan and Jay Jeon have been reinstated as heads of the Busan International Film Festival. The decision is a rebuke of the city authorities that forced the two men out of office.

At a special assembly meeting Wednesday, Lee was appointed as chairman with a four-year term. Jeon was named as festival director with a three-year mandate.

The Busan festival management found itself on a collision course with city officials during the October 2014 edition, when then-festival director Lee decided to press ahead with the screening of “The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol” (aka “Diving Bell”), a controversial documentary that took a polemical stance against the South Korean government. Busan Mayor Suh Byung-soo, who was aligned with the government and sat on the festival’s board in an ex-oficio position, objected.

In the following three years, Suh and city authorities, which were also the festival’s biggest source of funding, put increasing pressure on the festival’s management. They reduced funding for the festival and successfully prosecuted Lee over the festival’s handling of commissions paid for sponsorship revenue.

Actress Kang Su-yeon and former chairman Kim Dong-ho were drafted in as interim leaders, but they were unable to broker a peace accord. The skirmish led to a partial boycott of the festival in 2016 and 2017 by large sections of the Korean film industry.

Many also believe that the witch hunt conducted against the festival organizers contributed to the death last year of Kim Ji-seok, Busan’s head programmer and a co-founder of the festival in 1996, along with Kim Dong-ho, Lee and Jeon. Kim Ji-seok died during a visit to Cannes last May.

The national government headed by former President Park Geun-hye, which Suh supported, has also since been widely discredited. Park was impeached late last year and forced from office after a series of corruption and cronyism scandals.

Park, her chief of staff and the then-minister of culture, Cho Yoon-sun, were discovered to have operated a massive blacklist of artists and entertainment talent who were to be denied public funding because they expressed political views different from Park’s government. Cho was last week jailed for two years for her part in operating the blacklist.