Dialogue: PIFF's Kim Ji-seok
EmptySince the Pusan International Film Festival launched in 1996, chief programmer Kim Ji-seok has played a substantial role in the event's positioning as the world's window to Asian cinema. He's the first person to receive the print of films by an Asian filmmaker, and he gets name-dropped in local papers whenever news comes up about Asian films. This year, his team watched more than 800 films out of 1,000 entries; among them, 315 films were invited from 60 countries. He recently talked with Park Soomee from The Hollywood Reporter about PIFF's 13th edition this year.
The Hollywood Reporter: What distinguishes this year's programs from the past?
Kim Ji-seok: First of all, we brought many prominent works from lesser-known areas like Central Asia and the Philippines this year. We hope that films from these regions will get a renewed attention in the world cinema after this festival. Secondly, we have 133 world and international premieres, which back Pusan's rising status. Lastly, we adopted a number of systems this year to encourage and award critical reviews from the festival audiences. These will help to strengthen the festival's critical role in the long run and trigger cinematic discourses that are increasingly fading.
THR: Can you name some of the harder films to get and programs this year that audiences should particularly keep their eyes on?
Kim: Despite the slow industry, we found outstanding works among independent Korean films this year. Seven out of eight from Korean Cinema Today are world premieres this year, and each one of them is highly recommended. Out of the world and international premieres, I would encourage you to look for Zhang Yuan's "Dada's Dance" and He Jianjun's "River People." We also expect an active response from films in the New Currents section (all 14 from the section are world and international premieres this year), and a special screening of Asian superheroes, which will provide a new perspective on Asian films. The festival has done enormous work restoring their print condition and adding English subtitles.
THR: Based on special programs in focus this year like Asian superheroes and music videos from Asian film directors, I get an impression that the festival is pushing to add a popular appeal.
Kim: It's more accurate to say that we're trying to expand our spectrum of interpretation for films we choose. We're aiming to read the Asian film history from a different perspective. Normally, film festivals concentrate on directors' retrospectives or films from particular regions through their satellite programs, but Pusan will continue featuring issue-based screenings.
THR: Are there festivals you prefer aside from major European ones for the selection of films coming to Pusan?
Kim: Pusan doesn't rely on other festivals for our selections anymore. We do take into account the films coming to Cannes and Berlin to consider the market trends, but as a general rule our programmers visit the countries and discover works on our own. This is also because we get a lot more proposals now than we used to.
THR: Kang Han-seop, the director of the Korean Film Commission, described the Korean film industry at the moment as "a state of panic." Do you agree with him?
Kim: Yes, for the most part. I think the essential cause that led to this industry crisis is the pre-modern system that still dominates the local film scene, most importantly the unsteady production capital. Pusan has come up with a number of programs to support the local market this year. One of them is the Asian Film Fund Forum, a networking program which is aimed at introducing investment funds for Asian films. The program will ultimately lead producers to seek out new investment circuits and co-production opportunities. Korean Producers in Focus is another program we have this year. It is made for young producers to pitch their new projects.
THR: You stressed the importance of Asian Film Market as a way to strengthen the festival's functions. Do you have specific plans?
Kim: In the past, we've had some difficulties positioning AFM because the festival period of Pusan is stuck between Toronto, Tokyo and the American Film Market. Since we began, we've been trying to emphasize that AFM is a complete film market that caters to all aspects of services and facilities needed for film production and not just for selling and buying new films. That's why we have events like BIFCOM and PPP.
Date of birth: May 9, 1960
Job title: Program director, Pusan International Film Festival
Notable achievements: Appointed PIFF programmer of Asian cinema (1997)