Busan film fest to open, close with female directors

Busan International Film Festival’s executive director Kang Soo-youn (left) and chairman Kim Dong-ho speaking to press at the President Hotel in Jung-gu, Seoul, on Sept 11, 2017.
Busan International Film Festival’s executive director Kang Soo-youn (left) and chairman Kim Dong-ho speaking to press at the President Hotel in Jung-gu, Seoul, on Sept 11, 2017. PHOTO: YONHAP

(THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - For the first time in its 22-year history, works by female directors will both open and close the Busan International Film Festival (Biff).

South Korea’s Glass Garden, directed by Shin Su-won and starring actress Moon Geun-young, is set to open the festival, which will run in the south-eastern port city of Busan from Oct 12 to 21.

The film, straddling fantasy and reality, features Moon as Jae-yeon, a scientist who studies blood. After being betrayed by a lover, she seeks refuge in a secluded forest, where she meets ostracised novelist Ji-hoon, played by Kim Tae-woo. He makes a shocking discovery there. 

“It was a character I had not come across,” said Moon at a press conference in central Seoul on Monday (Sept 11).

Shin directed Madonna (2015), for which she won Best Director at the Wildflower Film Awards. Her 2012 film Pluto received a special mention at the Berlin International Film Festival. 

“(The film) is about how a young scientist thwarts her hopes and dreams due to human desire. It began by questioning whether (we) could not co-exist like humans and nature.” 

The closing film is Love Education by Taiwanese director Sylvia Chang, featuring three women from different generations tracing women’s history in China. 

A total of 298 films from 75 countries will be screened this year, with 100 world premieres and 29 international premieres. Screenings will take place on 32 screens in five theatres throughout Busan. 

Jang Dong-gun (V.I.P, 2017) and Kim Ha-neul (Misdemeanor, 2017) will emcee the opening ceremony, set to take place at the Busan Cinema Center on Oct 12. 

A large selection of this year’s works are from China and Japan. “This is the trend of Asian cinema this year. We considered only the quality of the films in our programming,” said executive director Kang Soo-youn. 

Ten works will be screening in New Currents, Biff’s signature competition category which recognises two features from a selection of first or second works by new Asian directors. Three South Korean films (After My Death, How To Breathe Underwater and Last Child), two Indian films (Ajji and Ashwatthama), two Chinese films (End Of Summer and One Night On The Wharf), one Hong Kong film (Somewhere Beyond The Mist), one Iranian film (Blockage) and one Taiwanese film (The Last Verse) are competing this year. 

All New Currents screenings are world premieres. 

This year, the festival has also created a new programme, Platform Busan, to promote independent film-makers throughout Asia. The platform is to offer seminars, forums and workshop sessions and provide networking opportunities for film-makers.

The Kim Ji-seok Award will be newly presented to two titles in the A Window On Asian Cinema category. The award commemorates Kim, Biff’s late programme director who had been with the festival since 1996. He died in May. 

Among international film figures attending this year’s festival will be director Darren Aronofsky and actress Jennifer Lawrence, who will be in Busan for their film Mother!. The film has been invited to the Gala Presentation category. 

American film-maker Oliver Stone, head juror for the New Currents category, French cinematographer Agnes Godard and Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi, jurors in the same category, will also be in attendance. 

Biff co-founder and chairman Kim Dong-ho and Kang, who have announced that they will be stepping down after this year’s festival, confirmed the decision at the press conference. The festival's organisers had previously issued a statement criticising Kang’s lack of communication and unilateral decisions. 

“I first joined (the festival) in 2015... There are still many problems that have not been solved. Every day of the past three years has been filled with anxiety over whether the festival can take place at all... I think it is my role as the executive director to take responsibility,” said Kang. 

“I believe I have completed my role,” said Kim, who retired in 2010 but was appointed to the chairman position last year after a tumultuous dispute between the Busan metropolitan government and Biff. 

"I cannot understand why (Kang) suddenly has to resign when she has been working hard to lead the festival,” Kim said. "(The problems at hand) began when (Kang and I) were not at the festival. But it is the duty of those in positions of responsibility to step down.” 

In 2014, Biff became embroiled in a dispute with the Busan city for screening a controversial documentary.