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Director Im laments fate of Busan film fest

  • Published : Mar 11, 2015 - 17:58
  • Updated : Mar 11, 2015 - 17:58

Im Kwon-taek, one of South Korea’s most renowned film directors, voiced strong concern over the future of Busan International Film Festival, whose longtime programmer and chief is stepping down after clashes with government authorities over censorship issues.

“The current situation is simply deplorable,” Im, 79, said at a public hearing in Seoul on Tuesday regarding recent events surrounding the festival.

“As a director who creates and submits his works to film festivals, I wonder who would ever want to enter their film in a festival where organizers censor and restrict the film’s subject matter,” he said.

South Korean film director Im Kwon-taek (second from right) discusses the Busan International Film Festival at a public hearing held in Seoul, Tuesday. (Yonhap)
The remarks came amid a growing uproar in the local film community over Busan City’s alleged attempt to undermine the independence of the annual festival.

Tensions between BIFF and the host city have been escalating since the festival organizers went ahead with the screening of “The Truth Shall Not Sink with Sewol” at last year’s festival despite objections from the city government and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Also known as “Diving Bell,” the film chronicles and raises questions about the government’s poor response to the sinking of the Sewol ferry in April 2014, which claimed the lives of over 300 victims, mostly high school students on a school trip.

In January, Busan Mayor Suh Byung-soo recommended that BIFF executive director Lee Yong-kwan, whose term officially expires in February 2016, step down from his post, after the Bureau of Audit and Inspection conducted an unusual special audit on BIFF. He demanded Lee’s departure, citing the need for a personnel shakeup in the organizing committee.

The local film community responded by heavily criticizing the move as a “retaliatory measure against the festival’s screening of the film.”

Last month, BIFF and Busan City reportedly reached an agreement to establish a joint executive director position, after the festival authorities recommended the measure.

However, Lee revealed at the public hearing that he was effectively stepping down and that BIFF had never recommended establishing a joint post.

“I will effectively be stepping down from my post as executive director. A new face, whom Busan City and the film community can agree upon, will take over the position as I transfer my duties over the next year and half. That is what the so-called ‘joint post’ is. That BIFF recommended creating a joint post is also a misunderstanding,” Lee said.

Several film industry officials attending the meeting as panelists expressed regret.

Shim Jae-myung, CEO of Myung Films, criticized Lee’s departure as a “compromise” rather than a “move forward” while the former executive director of the Jeonju International Film Festival expressed concerns about “how the two figures would effectively communicate in successfully leading the film festival.”

Acclaimed director Park Chan-wook stated that “it doesn’t make sense for Lee to step down when he has expressed that he cannot understand the so-called ‘paradigm shift’ and ‘need for new figures’ (that Busan City has put forward as reasons for why Lee must step down).”

“Many people are weary that even a film festival is becoming politicized. However, Busan City is the side which is turning things into an ideological issue,” Park said.

“I regarded BIFF as one of the only things running smoothly in Korea’s chaotic society, but given the current situation, I am questioning where this country is headed,” he added.

By Sohn Ji-young (jys@heraldcorp.com)