Asia’s largest movie festival set to kick off in Busan

busanAsia’s largest movie festival kicks off today at a time when the region’s influence on the global movie industry is on the rise. Entering its 20th year in the South Korean port city, the Busan International Film Festival has seen its influence and size expand in stride with the growth of box office sales in the region. Asian countries fueled growth in the global film industry last year, while box office sales in the US and Canada declined. With box office sales of $12.4 billion in 2014, the Asian region is the biggest and fastest-growing movie market in the world, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.

Despite the growing influence of Asian cinema in the world, the non-competition movie festival has kept its bar of pretense and hierarchy low, unlike the historic yet hierarchical Cannes Film Festival, which turned away some women in flat shoes from a premiere this spring. Busan cinemagoers – in flats or heels, part of the media or not – do more than just gaze at award-winning directors, K-pop stars and Hollywood celebrities gracing the red carpet.

They happily stay in queues from the wee hours to get tickets, ask questions to filmmakers and actors after screenings, and join public talk shows with them on the beach. While the glamour and glitz will not be lost in Busan, most moviegoers and industry officials will travel to South Korea’s second- largest city to discover the next-generation Wong Kar Wai or Ang Lee.

The festival’s New Currents section, which premiers Asian feature movies from novice directors, has broken major talents, including Venice Film Festival Golden Lion winner Jia Zhangke. Its Asian Cinema Fund program has provided financial lifelines to promising filmmakers. “There are a lot of movies completed by support from the Asian Cinema Fund, introduced in Busan for the first time in the world and then went on to international acclaim,” said Kim Jiseok, the Busan Film Festival’s executive programmer.

The festival has not been without challenges during its 20-year ride. The most recent setback was the budget cut by South Korea’s government after the festival went ahead with the screening of a controversial documentary last year despite pressure not to. The state-run Korean Film Council cut its support to the film festival this year by nearly half to 800 million won ($677,000) from 1.46 billion won ($1.2 million).

Many viewed the budget cut as punishment for the festival’s decision to screen the documentary, which was about the 2014 sinking of a ferry that left hundreds of people dead, most of them South Korean students on a school trip, and the government’s much-criticized rescue operation. “I felt then that our society’s democracy had a long way to go,” Kim said. After the standoff with the government, Kang Soo-yeon, an award-winning actress, was appointed the festival’s co-director. She has since vowed to stand for the value of freedom of expression. After its opening on Thursday with “Zubaan,” an India coming- of-age drama, the festival will screen 303 movies from 75 countries, including 94 world premieres.

Other things to watch for at this year’s Busan International Film Festival:

Glitz and glamour
The glamour and glitz will be at its height when the A-listed celebrities walk the red carpet under the futuristic roof of the Busan Cinema Center. The center’s 85-meter (280- foot) -long roof displays moving images on its curvy metal surface, with lights beaming from hundreds of thousands of LED lamps. It provides what has become the festival’s key image since its completion in 2011, as well as the official poster image this year. An equally impressive list of movie stars is expected to walk the red carpet. From South Korea, iconic actress Jeon Do-yeon, who served as the Cannes Film Festival’s feature section jury last year, will make an appearance. Heartthrobs Jung Woo-sung and Lee Jung-jae are expected to impress K-pop fans, while actress Tang Wei, who commands big followers in South Korea, will return to Busan on the first day of the festival.

A legion of veteran Asian filmmakers will gather to celebrate the festival’s 20th edition as well. Chinese filmmakers Jia Zhangke and Hou Hsiao-hsien and director Johnnie To from Hong Kong are among those scheduled to join the opening ceremony. Silvia Chang, the veteran actress and director from Taiwan, is set to greet audiences as the head the New Currents section jury. Japanese director Kore-eda Hirokazu and Apichatpong Weerasethakul from Thailand are among those expected to be spotted on the streets of the harbor city, although their attendance at the red carpet event remains unconfirmed. From Europe and the US, Nastassja Kinski, the German model and actress, is set to attend the festival for the first time as part of the jury. Sophie Marceau, Harvey Keitel and Tilda Swinton, a frequent visitor to South Korea, will also be there.—AP

This article was published on 30/09/2015