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What's Missing from Busan This Year? Hollywood

Cinema Center
Coop Himmelblau

Not an American star or filmmaker in sight as Asia's largest film festival moves forward.

BUSAN, South Korea -- Notice anything different about the Busan International Film Festival this year? Actually, there are many changes. 

There's a new festival director, Lee Yong-kwan; there's a new venue, the Busan Cinema Center; and the Asian Film Market has moved to the Busan Exhibition and Convention Centre.

But amid all the changes, something's missing: Hollywood.

BIFF opened with a Korean film and will close with a Japanese one. This year's gala presentations include films from Korea, China, Hong Kong, Japan, France and the United Kingdom. Director Luc Besson and his The Lady leading lady Michelle Yeoh certainly have Southern California cred, but his Aung San Suu Kyi biopic is hardly Hollywood fare. 

Of BIFF's three juries, not one has a single American member. A handful of American buyers and exhibitors are attending the Asian film Market.

Now, let's keep this in perspective. Busan is an international event, but it is Asia's, not North America's, largest film festival. That Korean films would be most prominent at an event held in Korea, followed by films from throughout Asia, is not a surprise.

That said, the U.S. remains the world’s largest film market, and Korean filmmakers have had some success selling remake rights to American producers. Korean actors have also made some headway appearing in Hollywood productions, including singer-actor-soldier Rain and Lee Byung-hun, more so than, say, their counterparts from China and Japan. 

This is disappointing from an event that has previously welcomed the likes of Oliver Stone, Bryan Singer, Willem Dafoe and Josh Hartnett. While a film festival can certainly be international without a predominance of American titles and filmmakers, their absence this year is conspicuous.

2011 marks the beginning of a new era at BIFF. However, if first impressions are lasting ones, then current indications are that going forward, Busan will be a Korean festival first, an Asian festival second and an international one last.