Bracing for the next BIFF
Right before “Revivre,” Im Kwon-taek’s 102nd film, screened at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), the director and cast appeared on stage to greet the audience. The MC apologized about the unscheduled event, but the audience cheered in return. After all, it is this kind of surprise event, and this kind of enthusiasm from audiences, that makes the Busan International Film Festival so special.
This is also exactly what made the first Busan International Film Festival in 1996 so impressive. Back then, BIFF was not a government-sponsored festival that top stars were eager to appear at. Yet nearly 200,000 fans came to Busan to watch the screenings that first year. Much anticipated movies, as well as unfamiliar flicks from far away countries, attracted large numbers of attendees.
Audiences were also surprised and impressed by their own enthusiasm. Their support became the driving force for the festival’s metamorphosis into a notable success story for local cultural festivals all over. It is now considered the biggest film festival in Asia, as well as an important cultural asset for the country.
That is not to say that the festival has always been spectacular. In the early years, society was far more rigid and conservative, and the film event saw a number of controversies. At the first festival, an edited version of Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg’s shocking movie “Crash” was screened. At the sixth, a retrospective of Shin Sang-ok included movies that were made while he was in North Korea, and the general audience was not allowed to the screenings.
These controversies made people ask what the film festival was about, and ultimately, it contributed to the expansion of freedom of expression in society. When the film festival was first held, restaurants and bars were banned from staying open past midnight, so film industry insiders had to spread out blankets around street vendors’ carts to enjoy drinks and discuss films. Ironically, the late-night meetings spread the passion of Korean filmmakers and industry insiders abroad.
I am not saying I miss the old days. But as the film festival is held year after year, passion and enthusiasm are no longer acceptable as an excuse for operational blunders.
This year, the festival created some waves due to the screening of a particularly controversial documentary film. Personally, I believe it was fortunate that the film was shown as planned. Any movie, and the decision of the film festival to invite it, can be a target of criticism. But canceling or suspending the screening for any other reason would create a bad precedent that discourages not just the filmmakers and the film festival but also the audience that has shown fervent support.
Next year will be the 20th Busan International Film Festival. The event should be even more meaningful and spectacular. There should be appropriate support and preparation for this milestone. Expectations for the festival to be operated smoothly will be even greater.
The author is a deputy culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 9, Page 3
by LEE HOO-NAM