Busan International Film Festival Gets an Extreme Makeover

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Asia’s largest cinema event boasts new name, home and leadership as part of a 'long-term master plan.'

BUSAN, South Korea -- The 16th edition of Asia’s largest cinema event sees the beginning of a new era — in addition to its updated acronym from PIFF to BIFF, it is also getting a new home, being spearheaded by new leaders and taking on new challenges.

The festival finally has an exclusive venue with the opening of the Busan Cinema Center, a “gravity-defying” structure by Austria-based Coop Himmelblau that has altered Busan’s cityscape by pushing boundaries of architec- tural experimentation.

This new beginning also marks an end, as founding director Kim Dong-ho stepped down from leading the event for its first 15 installments.

“The festival had been synonymous with Kim Dong- ho,” said commissioner Lee Yong-kwan, who now helms the festival alone after having co-directed the event with Kim. “now that he has retired, the festival really sees the

beginning of a whole new era — to grow under new wings. Having a new home and new name really symbolizes this great change. To be honest, making up for Mr. Kim’s absence is enormous pressure.”

Kim on the other hand feels a sense of relief. “BIFF has grown into Asia’s largest film festival, and I can resign with a feeling of reassurance, though not without some feeling of regret; I feel like I’m marrying off a daughter I raised with care,” he said.

BIFF will see enormous structural and logistical changes with the opening of the Cinema Center, as screenings will be limited to it and a hand- ful of theaters in the Haeundae area. Such transformations also extend to its business and academic initiatives as well.

This year BIFF will introduce an all-in-one market — the Asian Project Market (formerly Pusan Promotion Plan), Asian Film Market and Busan International Film Com- mission (BIFCOM). All had previously been held separately in different venues, but this year they will open simultane- ously at the Busan BEXCO from Oct. 10 to 13.

“We have reached a certain level of success as a festival, but the market has not been as successful,” Lee said. “We hope the expansion will contribute to the success of the market.”

According to organizers, the number of participating sales booths and market screenings has gone up considerably, with the number of sales booths up by 67 percent compared to 2010, while the ratio of participating firms saw a 14 percent increase.

As for market screenings, compared to last year’s presen- tation of 39 works shown over 47 screenings, 60 films will be presented over 64 sessions this year. These will be offered in six rather than four theaters like in 2010.

The Asian Film Market will also offer online screenings. Last year the cyber service was limited to PC users but is now available for Mac OS, as well as smartphones and digital tablets.

The festival is also aiming to strengthen its reputation as an event for theoretical and academic discourse.

While the festival has focused on the development of the film industry and networking, there hasn’t been much effort in creating a platform for theoretical and academic discourse, says Lee. “We felt the need for more networking opportuni- ties on a scholarly level.”

And so it will inaugurate the Busan Cinema Forum, an academic event for film- makers and scholars. This year, leading French industry magazine Les Cahiers du Cinema will spearhead the event with seminars and conferences, including an Oct. 11 discussion about the future of filmmaking in Asia attended by three of the region’s top cineastes: Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Hong Sang-soo and Bong Joon-ho, both from Korea.

The Institute also plans to promote cooperative projects between the indus- try and academic sectors later in the year. revenue- generating endeavors the institute has in mind include expansion of online, IPTV and cable services that allow fans to watch Asian art house movies 365 days per year, instead of just the duration of the festival.

“This is all part of a master plan that will take a long time to realize,” said Lee. “In the meantime, however, educational initiatives such as the Busan Cinema Forum will serve as a test. The response has been quite positive, though, and the number of registrations for the forum is much more than we ever imagined.”