Asian film turns to Pusan

Fest is now a showcase for region

As the leaders of South Korea and North Korea wrap their historic meetings in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, the 12th annual Pusan International Film Festival launches today at the other end of the peninsula.

While the politicians attempt to overcome the nations' 64-year division that followed a bitter civil war, PIFF will open with a film about another civil war, Feng Xiaogang's Chinese entry "Assembly." The 6,000-seat outdoor venue that hosts the opening sold out in 17 minutes.

As if to show the link between South Korea's flourishing movie industry and national strength, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun gave a stack of DVDs to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il at the summit, a collection said to include the local hit TV show "Jewel in the Palace" and monster movie "D-War."

In the 12 years since the Pusan festival began, the Korean film industry has grown from a mere footnote into the fifth-largest theatrical market in the world, and PIFF has been closely linked to that development.

More than just Korean cinema, though, PIFF also has worked to disseminate and encourage filmmakers around Asia.

Running through Oct. 12, this year's PIFF features more premieres than ever before — of the festival's 275 films, 66 are world premieres, 26 are international premieres and 101 are Asian premieres.

Organizers are particularly happy that all 11 movies in the competitive New Currents section are world or international premieres.

In addition to continuing the all-night screenings that began last year, PIFF has created two new sections: Gala Presentation, featuring four new titles by leading directors from Korea and around Asia, and Flash Forward, dedicated to first and second films by new Asian directors.

With ever-increasing competition from regional and world film festivals, maintaining PIFF's standing in the world film community is not easy, especially given PIFF's dedication to art house and independent fare.

Partially to combat this reputation, this year's PIFF opens and closes with works more mainstream than usual — the closing film is Japanese director Hideaki Anno's "Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone."

And for the first time since 2000, neither the opening- nor closing-night films is Korean.

Also bolstering PIFF's standing is a steadily growing budget. This year, corporate sponsorships soared by one-third, jumping to 4 billion won ($4.3 million), thanks to $1.1 million from the local clothing company Bean Pole. All told, the festival's budget has jumped this year to $8.4 million from $6 million last year.

Also new this year is the Asia Pacific Actors Network, which seeks to unite actors from around the region and build ties.

A major part of PIFF, as always, is its large array of film industry events, like the Asian Film Market, which runs Monday through Oct. 11.

With many programs in place for encouraging filmmakers from all over Asia, organizers note with pride that 13 movies on this year's slate were nurtured by PIFF through development at one phase or another.