Busan, Asia’s premier film festival, which kicks off Wednesday, has regularly reinvented itself in the face of literal and metaphorical storms.
Painfully, over a period of years, the Busan festival overcame the political storm that followed its 2014 screening of “Diving Bell” (aka “The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol”), a film about a ferry disaster with which the government of the time took issue.
The festival has also, literally, battled the weather, timed as it is during the typhoon season in the region. The grandeur of the opening ceremony has regularly been accompanied by ponchos and umbrellas, as gowned and dinner-jacketed celebrity guests from around the world kept a nervous eye on the weather.
The storm being endured in 2020 is that of an invisible assailant with visible consequences – the coronavirus pandemic. Though Korea has largely weathered this particular tempest, travel restrictions and closed borders means that this year’s Busan festival is deprived of international guests, and a grand opening ceremony. Some in-person screenings will be held, but with limited numbers of socially-distanced guests and only at the Busan Cinema Center.
However, affection for the event remains unabated. Festival regulars sent in their own spate of support messages. “Even a pandemic cannot stop our passion for communicating through cinema,” said Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke (“Ash is Purest White”), while Japanese master Kore-eda Hirokazu (“The Truth”), who won the Asian filmmaker of the Year award at Busan in 2019, said: “I do not believe we will stay disconnected like this. We will be reconnected in any shape or form.”
Messages also poured in from other global festival heads including Thierry Frémaux, the general delegate of the Cannes Film Festival, Carlo Chatrian, the artistic director of the Berlin festival, and Alberto Barbera, director of the Venice festival.
Meanwhile, the Busan festival has found ways to innovate. This year’s Wide Angle strand selection music documentary “School Town King,” will be screened simultaneously at the Busan Cinema Centre and the Thai Film Archive’s theater in Bangkok. After the screening, there will be an online Q&A with director Wattanapume Laisuwanchai and crew, where they will talk about the film with audiences in the two countries.
Similarly, there are plans for simultaneous twin-country screenings of titles from Vietnam, Myanmar and the Philippines as well.
The Busan festival opens Wednesday evening with portmanteau film “Septet: The Story of Hong Kong.” The film includes segments directed by Ann Hui, Sammo Hung, Ringo Lam, Patrick Tam, Johnnie To, Tsui Hark, and Yuen Woo-Ping. The festival will close on Oct. 30 with Japanese filmmaker Tamura Kotaro’s animated feature “Josee, the Tiger and the Fish.”