Busan: New Currents Competition Lineup Spreads Net Across Asian Cinema

Courtesy of Busan International Film Festival
'Among the Hills'

The main competition at the 24th edition of the South Korean film festival features 14 films from 10 countries.

From a Kyrgyzstani coming-of-age drama about a young runner dreaming of glory to a cautionary tale from the Philippines about the perils associated with social media as well as films from countries everywhere in between, the lineup to the New Currents competition section at this year's Busan International Film Festival is doing its best to represent as much of Asian cinema as it can. 

On the fest's opening night, host Lee Hanee (Extreme Job) promised this year’s festival would be all about diversity, and the lineup for the main New Currents award seems to present the first proof of that with a roster of up-and-coming Asian filmmakers hoping to make their mark and go on to win the award that has previously been bestowed upon the likes of China’s Venice Golden Lion winner Jia Zhangke (Still Life) and Singapore’s Eric Khoo, who had Be With Me at Cannes in 2005. 

“We are hoping to be surprised,” said jury head Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas). "We are looking for the talent of tomorrow. We take very seriously the task of nurturing new talent and then to support new talent. To make one film is a remarkable achievement. To make two films is even more remarkable and to continue as a filmmaker is perhaps the biggest challenge that faces any young person in the industry. So we are very aware of our responsibility." 

Kyrgyzstani director Mirlan Abdykalykov’s Running to the Sky and John Denver Trending from the Philippines’ Arden Rod Condez are among 14 films in the running for the New Currents this year, with 11 countries being represented, factoring in one Iraq-Qatar co-production, Haifa Street from Mohanad Hayal.

Figgis heads a jury that also includes actresses Lee Sinje and Samal Yeslyamova, Karlovy Vary International Film festival artistic director Karel Och and Finecut CEO Suh Yongjoo.

Suh said she would be focused on "the originality" of the movie.

"A lot of new directors are not just following the path of the older generation, they are actually charting their own path, so I am looking forward to discovering new directors," she said.

Taiwan's Lee — who has her latest film The Garden of Evening Mists screening at BIFF — said she thought a good movie had "a special message for life."

"It is a challenge to understand films from another culture, but this is good because we can judge from a pure start, from the heart," she said.

BIFF has been keen this year to point out proof of the awards’ lasting legacy, with the new work of 13 former New Currents entrants screening as part of the main program. Former winner Yerlan Nurmukhambetov (Walnut Tree, 2015) kicked things off with the opening-night world premiere of The Horse Thieves. Roads of Time, co-directed by the Kazakhstani filmmaker and Japan’s Lisa Takeba.

Yeslyamova, who stars in the film, picked up the best actress gong at Cannes last year for her role in Ayka and said she now knows first-hand the impact winning an award can have.

"I was already known in Kazakhstan, but after winning the award, I started to receive calls for work from all over the world," she said.

New Currents hands out two prizes of $30,000 and is open to first- and second-time Asian filmmakers.  The awards will be announced on Oct. 12.

The full lineup for New Currents 2019 is below.

Among the Hills (dir: Mohammad Reza Keyvanfar; Iran)
Boluomi (dir: Lau Kek Huat, Vera Chen; Taiwan)
Diapason (dir: Hamed Tehrani; Iran)
The Education (dir: Kim Dukjoong; Korea)
Haifa Street (dir: Mohanad Hayal; Iraq/Qatar
John Denver Trending (dir: Arden Rod Condez; Philippines)
Just Like That (dir: Kislay Kislay; India)
Lucky Monster (dir: Bong Joon-young; Korea)
My Identity (dir: Suzu Sae; Japan)
An Old Lady (dir: Lim Sun-ae; Korea)
Over the Sea (dir: Sun Aoqian; China)
A Road to Spring (dir: Li Ji; China)
Rom (dir: Tran Thanh Huy; Vietnam)
Running to the Sky
(dir: Mirlan Abdykalykov; Kyrgyzstan)