After biggest success yet, Busan fest secures futureBUSAN ― Friday night, this southern port city marked the end of its biggest annual event, the Pusan International Film Festival, with eye-popping fireworks, an orchestra of nearly 100 gayageum (a kind of zither) players and, of course, a film premiere: Hwang Byeong-guk's “Wedding Campaign.”
Over the festival's nine days, a record 192,970 guests came from around the world to see the latest international films.
This year's New Currents award, the biggest prize of the festival, went to Zhang Lu's “Grain in Ear,” about the tragic life of a Korean-Chinese woman avenging betrayals by old lovers. The president of the award jury, the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, presented the award to the overjoyed Mr. Lu.
“Mr. Kiarostami is my idol, so it is a very happy occasion for me,” Mr. Lu said.
Meanwhile, “The Unforgiven” by Korean director Yoon Jong-bin cleaned up in several categories, winning the FIPRESCI Award for “experimental and progressive cinema,” the NETPAC Award for the best Korean feature film and the PSB Audience Award.
“The Unforgiven,” which premiered at PIFF, is about two men who were friends in junior high school and meet again in a Korean army battalion. The film exposes the transformative power of social pressure, depicting the older friend's ability to quickly switch between the roles of casual friend and brutal taskmaster. As the younger friend rises in rank, he makes a pledge to treat his subordinates better, but discovers he cannot protect even one man from the crushing environment of the military barracks.
The film's depiction of Korea's mandatory military service filled in a “missing link” about Korean culture for David Kehr, president of the FIPRESCI jury. “Knowing many Koreans, I often wondered how such an unbelievably kind people could produce such violent films. [“The Unforgiven”] answered that question, at least provisionally.”
Over its first decade, PIFF grew seemingly miraculously to surpass older and more established Asian festivals. But the festival organizers didn't spend this year lying on Haeundae beach. Instead, they laid the groundwork to transform the festival from a regular event into a guiding cinematic institution.
The most tangible of these efforts was the groundbreaking for a new PIFF film center on the banks of the Suyeong River in Busan. Seven architectural firms from around the world submitted designs, which were on display at the festival. A jury was expected to decide on the final design by Friday, but disagreements forced them to select three runners-up instead. A new jury will choose from designs by Stephen Holl of the United States, TEN Arquitectos of Mexico and Coop-Himmelb(l)au of Austria by December, said the festival’s director, Kim Dong-ho. Construction is set to begin next year, and the center should open in 2008.
The scale and pantheon of awards also expanded. The New Currents award prize money increased from $10,000 to $30,000, and an “Asia Documentary Fund” added five awards and $50,000 to stimulate local non-fiction filmmaking.
“Feature films are seeing success, but on the other side, the documentary and experimental films are not growing,” Mr. Kim said, adding that the purpose of the funds is not only to produce great films, but to build a community of filmmakers. “In the future, the documentary film industry in Asia will be able to network through them [the fund winners].”
Finally, and perhaps most significantly for the film community, starting next year PIFF will host a film market to integrate its current commercial efforts, including the Pusan Promotion Plan.
Although this year's festival experienced a few technical glitches, as the fireworks screamed overhead and triumphant music blared during the closing ceremony, it was clear that Korea's second city had secured a promising future for Asia’s dark horse film festival.
by Ben Applegate