Film festivals duel for enthusiastsCritics have compared the rivalry between the two film festivals with the legend of David and Goliath, David being the brave shepherd who killed the giant Goliath with a sling and stone. On the opening night of the Real Fantastic Film Festival (ReaFan), which was created by the dismissed staff from the Puchon International Fantastic Festival (PiFan), it was evident that the biblical history was indeed repeating itself.
At Seoul Art Cinema on Thursday night, the theater that usually hosts a small number of arthouse film enthusiasts was filled with hundreds of filmgoers and notable celebrities. They came to see “Aelita,” one of the first Russian science fiction films and the opening screening for the ReaFan.
The festival, which is small enough that it had skipped a red carpet extravaganza and special events to celebrate the opening, began modestly with a short introduction by Kim Hong-joon, the former chairman of PiFan. Earlier this year, he was fired by Hong Geon-pyo, the mayor of Bucheon, for allegedly failing to include enough family-oriented films instead of gory cult films that were a trademark of PiFan. Another rumored sleight was that the mayor was outraged when Mr. Kim unintentionally neglected to call out his name during the official opening ceremony of the 2004 PiFan.
On Thursday, Mr. Kim was greeted with loud applause when he said on stage, “I am Kim Hong-joon, a former staffer of the PiFan and now the director of the Real Fantastic Festival.”
On the same night, the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival launched its 10-day-long event at the Bucheon Citizen’s Hall outside of Seoul in Gyeonggi province, attended mostly by festival guests.
Timure Bekmambetov, a Russian director of one of the two opening films, “Nochnoi Dozor,” or the “Night Watch,” and Anapola Mushkadiz, leading actress of another opening film, “Battle in Heaven” from Mexico, made a grand entrance into the building.
Other names gracing the red carpet included Karl Yune, brother of Hollywood actor Rick Yune, who stars in a short film that is part of the festival program. Yune walked out of his vehicle to a cheering crowd. The promenade on the carpet continued for more than half an hour, but most of the celebrities the crowd cheered for were city officials from Bucheon, provincial government suits as well as government officials from Japan and China.
The two events, which both took place on Thursday evening in Bucheon and Seoul, openly revealed their rivalry by showing competing Russian films for openers. At ReaFan, a 1920s classic silent film by Yakov Protazanov was accompanied by an electric soundtrack produced by Song Hyun-joo, a music producer. PiFan raised the festival’s curtain with Timure Bekmambetov’s “Night Watch,” one of the most expensive Russian film productions ever.
The two festivals have both traversed rough roads over the past seven months. Followed by the dismissals of Mr. Kim and other PiFan staff, a series of protests were held by many prominent directors, actors and citizens against PiFan.
In April, a group of former PiFan staffers mobilized to launch an alternative festival aimed at showing that “a film festival is driven solely by the freedom of expression, not by politics.”
The budget for ReaFan, which was more than 200 million won ($195,000), about 10 percent of PiFan’s, mainly depended on individual donations from directors and ordinary cinephiles. That contrasts to 2.3 billion won used for PiFan, funded mainly by the city of Bucheon.
At PiFan, more than 170 films will be screened over the course of the festival. ReaFan will show 60 films.
“Our event was not to oppose or interrupt somebody else’s effort,” said Mr. Kim, a filmmaker and a director of ReaFan. “Instead, it began as a hope to create something new and protect something that has been valuable to us.”
But others saw clear conflict between the two festivals.
“There is an evident move to boycott PiFan among the insiders,” says Park Gyeong-sin, a legal expert at the Korea Film Council who donated money for ReaFan. “You wouldn’t be considered a true film professional if you go to Bucheon now. You need to be here. For me, I just wanted to support a festival that was genuinely organized by people who love and know about cinema.”
For Choi Doo-young, a director of Doo Entertainment, who participated in the festival’s fund-raising, showing up at the opening at ReaFan was a means of protest.
“We are all very enraged,” Choi says. “We all know that it greatly damages the quality of film when politics interfere with events like this. It’s nonsense that bureaucracy still invades cultural events like this in Korea.”
In Bucheon, Yu Mi-rim, an eighth grader, says she came to watch the opening ceremony with two of her friends. She says she was hoping to see a well-known movie star, but she didn’t recognize any of the so-called celebrities. She and her friends left, saying they had to do homework.
A middle-aged woman walking by the site asked a reporter if this was “the event the Bucheon city had been defending all along.”
The woman, who says she lives in an apartment behind the Bucheon subway station, says she and her friends signed a petition a few days ago in front of a supermarket to “stop Seoul city from taking Bucheon’s film festival away.”
“I heard that if the festival in our town does not attract more people, we could lose the festival to Seoul,” she said.
When a reporter asked her whether she would stop by the festival, she shrugged. “I signed the petition to save the Bucheon city’s event. Isn’t that enough?” she said.
The PiFan organizers had declared earlier that they hoped this year’s festival would not be ignored by Bucheon citizens again, and this year included more family-oriented films while going softer on the blood and ooze.
“The recent confusion over two fantasy film festivals has to do with the dismissal of the former chairman of PiFan, Kim Hong-joon,” a statement from the support team for the ninth PiFan sent out to the media earlier this week read. “He was dismissed for coordinating a failed film festival, but he is now spreading lies about why he got fired and opening an anti-PiFan event.”
“The 860,000 people living in Bucheon cannot understand why he would try to harm the city’s annual event,” the statement further said.
Most of the Bucheon residents at the festival this year were college students selected by the organizers for volunteer work and wore special red t-shirts. It was the same crowd that encircled the red carpet to clap and hoot every time guests walked down the aisle.
There were about 900 seats inside the Citizen’s Hall, but less than 70 seatings were reserved for the public. Some 240 seats had been saved for Bucheon city officials, 50 for sponsors and 30 more for special guests of the city.
“There is no one but bureaucrats here,” said a member of Yeongsangwoo, an Internet club for movie lovers. “This is supposed to be a film festival, not a bureaucrat festival.”
At ReaFan, Kim Sung-su, director of “The Warrior” and “Beat” said, “PiFan had always fulfilled the role of stimulating the audience’s creativity. The only way for success in a film festival is to put the film professionals in the center. Bucheon has ignored that theory. It has neglected those who have practically built the festival.”
by Park Soo-mee, Lee Min-a