Busan: Fest Director Regrets Controversy Over Ferry Disaster Documentary

End of Winter H 2014
Lotte Entertainment

Lee Yong-kwan addresses the hype surrounding ‘The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol,’ the biggest headline-maker at this year’s record-breaking event

The Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) closed its 19th edition on Saturday with a record attendance rate — and fest director Lee Yong-kwan apologetically addressing the hype surrounding a South Korean ferry disaster documentary that had been making headlines even before this year’s event began.

“I feel remorseful in many ways [about the controversy that has built up over the documentary],” said Lee about The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol, which the festival pushed forth to screen as scheduled — in spite of protests from the festival’s own chairman, Busan mayor Seo Byung-soo, as well as several families of victims of the April tragedy that left 304 dead or missing.

“I understood the mayor [and his wish to respect the families’ wishes], but as a festival we could not cancel the screening and we stand firm on that issue,” he said. “Films, and film festivals, I believe, should inspire communication and dialogue for opposing minds, to find a way to resolve conflicts through lively debates.”

Read more Busan: South Korean Ferry Disaster Documentary Causes a Stir

Over 1,000 local cineastes held petitioning events for a public inquiry into the ongoing investigation of the tragedy during the fest, which was attended by 226,473 guests from Oct. 2-11, according to organizers. This breaks the previous record (221,002 fest-goers) set in 2012, and makes it the third consecutive year that BIFF has attracted more than 200,000 visitors.

“We tried our best to include more programs, such as the new Cinekids section for children, to reach out to more audiences. Busan has also been trying to be a gateway for new Asian talents and obscure regional industries,” said Lee.

BIFF’s signature New Currents competition for emerging Asian directors, for example, showcased works from Iran, Lebanon, Nepal and Bangladesh. Top prizes went to Korea’s End of Winter by Kim Daehwan and Iran’s 13 by Hooman Seyedi.

There was unanimous agreement by judges over End of Winter, a work that is “close to real life,” according to jury head Asghar Farhadi. The Oscar-winning Iranian director added that Busan is unique for its spotlight on young talent.

Read more 'End of Winter': Busan Review

“What is special to this festival is that it cares about young, first- and second-time filmmakers. Twelve years ago I was here with my very first film. I’ve seen 12 films in New Currents and some outside of the section, and I could feel an Asian identity in each film,” he said.

The BIFF Mecenat Award for documentaries went to Cambodia’s The Storm Makers by Guillaume Suon and Korea’s Collapse by Mun Jeong-hyun and Lee Wonwoo. The Sonje Award for shorts by new filmmakers went to Stairway by Matt Wu (Taiwan) and The Night by Choi Kiyun (Korea).

“We saw 30 to 40 new voices in short-film form, which is a unique [format where] you can see filmmakers at the very beginning of their careers and using the filmmaking craft for the first time,” said Sonje jury member Doug Jones, executive director of U.S. Images Cinema. “I am certain we will see them as feature filmmakers [at Busan] in the next few years.

Busan’s inaugural Actor and Actress of the Year, for spotlighting talent in Korean indie films, went to Choi Woo-shik (Set Me Free) and Cho Soo-hyang (Wild Flowers), respectively. Star actors Yoo Ji-tae and Kim Hee-ae chose the winners.

Busan Vision Award Winners are as follows:

Daemyung Culture Wave Award: The Liar by Kim Dong-myung (South Korea)

FIPRESCI (Federation Internationale de la Press Cinematographique) Award: What’s the Time in Your World? by Safi Yazdanian (Iran)

NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) Award: Socialphobia by Hong Seok-jae (Korea)

KNN Award (Audience Award): Ghadi by Amin Dora (Lebanon)

Busan Bank Award (Audience Award): The Boss, Anatomy of a Crime by Sebastian Schindel (Argentina)

Citizen Critics’ Award: Set Me Free by Kim Tae-yong (Korea)

Busan Cinephile Award: The Look of Silence by Joshua Oppenheimer (Denmark)

CGV Movie Collage Award: A Matter of Interpretation by Lee Kwang-kuk (Korea)

DGK (Directors Guild of Korea) Award: A Midsummer’s Fantasia by Jang Kunjae (Korea) andSocialphobia by Hong Seok-jae (Korea)

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