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Upbeat but tainted by scandal: Roundup of Busan Film Fest weekend

  • Published : Oct 15, 2017 - 17:19
  • Updated : Oct 15, 2017 - 17:19

The 22nd edition of the Busan International Film Festival, running through Oct. 21, was in full swing over the weekend.

Cinemagoers say the overall mood had been significantly more festive than that of the previous year, when a political struggle and boycott clouded the festival.

“The programming is richer, and you can tell how much effort went into planning,” said Park Yoon-seon, 28, who worked at BIFF four years ago and attends every year. “There are more films, more guests and more interest in the festival this year compared to last year.”

Favorable weather conditions Friday and Saturday have helped as well, said Lee Seung-yoon, 30, a copywriter who also attends BIFF every year. Though light rain poured throughout Sunday, the rest of the week is expected to see a lot of sun.

“Last year, the atmosphere was quite bleak. The sets at BIFF Village in Haeundae had collapsed from the storm,” said Lee. “This year feels much more upbeat and energetic.”

From left: John Woo, Angeles Woo and Ha Ji-won meet with reporters at the Busan Cinema Center. (Park Ju-young/The Korea Herald)
Numerous international visitors were visible in and around the Busan Cinema Center as well.

Michael Nowak, director at the online New England Film Festival which screens regional films from the US’ northeast, was impressed at the rich combination of local and international films.

“I’m here for inspiration,” said the 23-year-old from Texas. “It’s great to be at a festival that’s so diverse and where local filmmakers are also represented.”

Tensions with North Korea were on the mind of some foreign visitors, but did not deter their visit. “I’m aware of the news and anxious about the situation, but I didn’t think anything terrible would happen right away,” said Australian tourist Benjamin Walsh.

Guests expressed their support of the event and stressed its significance in Asian cinema.

“(BIFF) occupies an important position in global cinema. We know how hard (the organizers) had to work to create this success. It also provides a place of communication,” Hong Kong director John Woo, who helmed “Manhunt,” said Saturday.

A hub for Asian films, the Asia Film Market kicked off alongside BIFF Saturday at the Busan Exhibition & Convention Center with some 1,250 participants from 45 countries. Some 435 buyers from 31 countries and 163 sales booths from 23 countries are tobe participating until Tuesday.

Korean actor-turned-producer Cha In-pyo is attending the market as the producer of “Heavenquest: A Pilgrim’s Progress,” an action fantasy and Christian allegory, co-produced by Cha’s TKC Pictures and US film production company King Street Pictures.

The recent passing of Kim Ji-seok, a founding member of BIFF, was mourned amid the festivities. Pianist Kim Sun-wook gave a performance in memory of the late executive programmer at the opening ceremony Thursday. The newly installed Kim Ji-seok Award in his honor, given to two talented Asian filmmakers with unique points of view, is expected to capture the diversity of Asian film.

The cast of “The Fortress” speaks to festivalgoers at Haeundae BIFF Village Saturday. (Yonhap)
Lingering conflict

Shadows of political turmoil lingered, meanwhile, as people called for an official apology from the Busan Metropolitan Government, which has been accused of retribution against BIFF after the festival screened a documentary against its will in 2014.

A group of film students stood outside BIFF Hill hall, holding panels of protest against the Busan government. The students are collecting signatures for a petition against the Busan government to extract an official and public apology for BIFF.

“The festival has not recovered 100 percent,” said Kang Seong-taek, 20, a film and media student at Pusan National University. “Numerous international film festivals have expressed their disapproval of the Busan government’s actions. Government funding for BIFF also remains insufficient.”

This year’s budget for BIFF was approximately 11.7 billion won ($10.4 million) with 6.4 billion won from Busan Metropolitan Government and 760 million won from Korean government expenditure. National governmental funding has steadily decreased since 2005 and accounts for some 6.5 percent of the budget this year, significantly lower than international festivals such as Cannes or Berlin, which receive some 20 to 30 percent of their budgets from state funding.

Director Oliver Stone, head juror of the New Currents category this year, called out the Korean government on censorship. “There is a problem with freedom of expression in the Korean government, as you could see in the past Rhee Syng-man administration, and the Park Geun-hye administration strongly limited (freedom of expression),” he said in a press conference Friday, first referring to President Syngman Rhee, who held the position 1948-60.

Oliver Stone receives a question from a reporter at the Busan Cinema Center on Friday. (Yonhap)
Bang Eun-jin, director of “Method,” met festivalgoers at Haeundae BIFF Village Friday holding a picket sign that read: “(Busan) Mayor Suh Byung-soo, apologize to BIFF.”

“I’ve been able to watch BIFF since its first edition from up close. It pains me that so many people who were there then can’t be here now. I hope everyone who loves the festival will support us,” she said.

Actor Jang Dong-gun (“V.I.P.”) also spoke up about BIFF’s troubles Friday. “(BIFF) is going through growing pains, but I hope it maintains its international acclaim,” he said. “I’m sure it’s a process of becoming a better festival. I hope all political influences disappear from not only BIFF, but the culture and arts world.”

Director Shin Su-won, who helmed this year’s opening film “Glass Garden,” said that BIFF is “an extremely important festival for those who make independent art films” at a press conference Thursday. “It must survive.”

Executive Director Kang Soo-youn, who will step down after the festival’s conclusion this year, stressed the efforts of the film industry to keep BIFF going. “We have been striving with devotion to defend the festival,” she said.

Ripples from Hollywood

The ongoing scandal involving American film producer Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment of actresses was a topic that popped up frequently in discussions with international guests.

Stone gave a neutral response when asked about his opinions Friday. “I’m a believer that you wait until this thing gets to trial,” he said. “I believe a man shouldn’t be condemned by a vigilante system. It’s not easy what he’s going through either.”

On Saturday, the director posted a statement on Facebook backtracking on his remarks. “After looking at what has been reported in many publications over the last couple of days, I’m appalled and commend the courage of the women who’ve stepped forward to report sexual abuse or rape.”

Stone added that he will recuse himself from upcoming TV series “Guantanamo” as long as the Weinstein Company is involved.

Former Playboy model Carrie Stevens subsequently said via Twitter on Saturday that she had been sexually harassed by Stone in the 1990s.

“When I heard about Harvey, I recalled Oliver walking past me & grabbing my boob as he walked out the front door of a party. Two of a kind!” she wrote.

Actress Patricia Arquette also wrote via Twitter on Saturday of a “weird” encounter she had with Stone, who had sent her roses and asked Arquette why she had brought her boyfriend to an event.

Stone has yet to respond to the remarks.

Director Darren Aronofsky, whose film “mother!” is screening in Gala Presentation, more firmly denounced Weinstein.

“Sexual abuse of any type anywhere is unacceptable, unlawful, disgusting and needs to be battled by everyone. Men and women have to have absolutely no tolerance for it,” he said Friday.

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)