Busan Festival Power Struggle Ends as City's Mayor Steps Down

Lee Yong-Kwan and Kim Dong-Ho - H 2011
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Lee Yong-Kwan and Kim Dong-Ho - H 2011

Kim Dong-ho, the iconic founder of the South Korean event, will step in as fest director in order to host the October gathering as scheduled.

The long battle for the artistic freedom of the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) has finally come to an end, with organizers on Monday announcing that the 21st edition of the event will take place as scheduled from Oct. 6-15 in the South Korean port city of Busan.

Organizers of Asia's largest cinema event have been at odds with the Busan metropolitan government for the past year and eight months, with local filmmaker coalition groups threatening to boycott BIFF in order to protect its artistic freedom. But organizers and local authorities finally have reached an agreement, resulting in some of the biggest changes in the festival's 20-year history.

Under the fest's revised articles of association, the Busan mayor will no longer automatically serve as chairman of the BIFF organizing committee. It will be left to someone in the private sector as Suh previously announced in March. A general assembly is slated to take place around mid-May so that organizers can smooth out the details.

In the meantime, Kim Dong-ho, founder and honorary director of BIFF, will step in to fill in as fest director. The position had remained vacant, with Kang Soo-youn flying the fest solo ever since Mayor Suh Byung-soo announced in February that Lee Yong-kwan, a co-founder of BIFF, would not be reappointed as fest director. Kim previously helmed BIFF from 1996-2010.

Busan authorities fund roughly half of the event's annual budget, and the mayor has automatically served as fest chairman. Around September 2014, conflicts arose between BIFF and local authorities when Mayor Suh Byung-soo opposed the screening of a politically sensitive documentary, The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol.

Busan authorities then ordered an unprecedented audit inspection and filed a lawsuit against fest organizers for appointing new members to the advisory board without the consent of the chairman. 

"[BIFF founder and honorary director] Kim Dong-ho and other veteran members are still onboard and making sure things are running smoothly," Jay Jeon, director of BIFF's Asian Film Market and a founding member of the fest alongside Lee, previously told The Hollywood Reporter. "Though we are trying hard to work out details with Busan City, it remains unchanged that we both want to host a successful festival. I believe the filmmakers have made the boycott statement in hopes that the festival will prosper in the long run."