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The Busan International Film Festival came to a close Friday with its annual awards ceremony honoring both up-and-coming directors and more established auteurs from around the globe.
The winner of this year’s New Currents Awards, which are given to the two best films selected from first or second features from emerging Asian directors, went to Chinese filmmaker Wang Er Zhuo’s Farewell, My Hometown, a documentary about three generations of Chinese women, and Kim Se-in’s The Apartment With Two Women, a story that delves into the conflict between a mother and a daughter, raising questions about the nature of family.
The Kim Ji-seok Award, established in 2017 after the death of the festival’s founding director, is handed out to more established names from the Busan program. This year it went to two titles, Rapist by India’s Aparna Sen, which chronicles the psychology, social environment and class dynamics behind a sexual assault case, and Gensan Punch by Philippine filmmaker Brillante Ma Mendoza, a story about a Japanese boxer narrated in a documentary style.
The Bargain, by China’s Wang Qi, which shows how Shanghai’s economy attracts manpower from rural areas, also received a special mention in the section.
The BIFF Mecenat Award, meanwhile, given to the best documentaries from Asia, went to Heo Chul-nyung’s 206: Unearthed, which looks at an investigation into the remains of civilians who were massacred during the Korean War, and Zhang Mengqi’s Self Portrait: Fairy Tale in 47 km, depicting the hometown of the director’s father.
During the 10-day festival, Busan attracted 76,072 filmgoers to theaters, about 80 percent of the festival’s total potential occupancy rate. This year’s fest was also meaningful to industry watchers in the sense that it showed signs of recovery for the South Korean movie industry following the outbreak of COVID-19.
“Although the theaters operated at 50 percent capacity, the enthusiasm was very intense,” said Heo Moon-yong, the festival director. “The Open Cinema selections, which were screened at the outdoor theater, were sold out for five days out of eight.”
Busan’s Asia Contents and Film Market (ACFM), which opened on Oct. 11, attracted more than 1,389 companies from 52 countries, an increase of 57 percent from last year when the market was held virtually for the first time due to the pandemic.
The number of applications for business meetings also doubled compared to last year, reaching a total of 1,200, organizers said. The Asian Project Market, or “APM,” had its highest number of submissions ever this year and hosted a record number of business meetings.
“The number of meetings increased by more than 600 people compared to last year,” says Oh Seok-geun, the new director of ACFM. “The need to exchange information and find new projects shows the participants’ expectations for ACFM. Buyers are seriously looking to secure IP that is raw and original. There’s a demand for strong Asian content.”
On Thursday, the Asian Project Market, Asia’s largest co-production market, also announced the winners of its 2021 awards. The winners for the seven sections were Jéro Yun’s Secret of My Father, part of the director’s trilogy on family; Before, Now & Then from Kamila Andini, who gained attention after winning the New Currents Award in 2011 with her debut film The Mirror Never Lies; Lim Sun-ae’s Fixed Love, Fixed Girl, a film providing a different perspective on people with disabilities; Hsieh Pei-Ju’s Lives of Crime, a collaborative project by up-and-coming female filmmakers in Taiwan; If Wood Could Cry, It Would Cry Blood, an adaptation of an autobiographical novel by Tam Van Phong Dao, a famous Vietnamese comedian; Abinash Bikram Shah’s Elephants in the Fog, a story of trans women ostracized by society; and Spectrum by Kim Bora, director of the 2018 festival hit House of Hummingbird (2018).
“We’re hoping to find new investments and ways to connect with other film markets,” Oh said. “We will continue to promote APM, but we will also look into a joint effort and create a solidarity with other markets so that films that are looking for investment opportunities get the chances they need.”
The pandemic affected festival organizers’ plans this year. For example, Busan created a hotline to the city’s quarantine experts in case of an outbreak and limited visitors to the opening ceremony to people who had received negative PCR test results within 72 hours or those who had completed vaccinations 14 days prior to the event. Busan’s opening ceremony was the first international event in Korea since the start of the pandemic — and more than 10,000 festival-goers attended.
Some foreign guests also visited Busan for the first time since 2019, though their numbers were modest. A total of 60 international guests attended the festival, including rising Japanese director Hamaguchi Ryusuke, who took part in a panel discussion with Oscar winner Bong Joon-ho, and veteran French director Leos Carax, who held a master-class with aspiring local filmmakers.
In some areas, it was clear the festival was still getting back on its feet. The lack of training for festival volunteers made it difficult for some visitors to get necessary information on site, and two press conferences were postponed at the last minute. On Monday, the screening of Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho was interrupted two minutes after it started due to technical issues. It continued after 50 minutes, but the audience received a full refund.
Given the festival’s COVID-19 measures, just one attendee was confirmed to have contracted the virus during the festival, a staff member of a local talent agency.
“There were painful mistakes during the festival,” said festival director Heo during the closing press conference. “We checked what kind of problems there were internally and why these problems occurred. We will do a better job next year.”
Following these comments, the festival closed on schedule with the screening of Anita, a biopic of late Hong Kong pop diva and actress Anita Mui, played by Louise Wong.
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