Busan to Open 20th Edition With Indian Debut Feature 'Zubaan'

Courtesy of BIFF
'Zubaan' by Mozez Singh

Pushing aside recent financial woes, the South Korean fest will highlight works by emerging young Asian auteurs while a strong Chinese presence is anticipated with closer 'Mountain Cry.'

The Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) will present 304 films from 75 countries for its big 20th anniversary edition.

The South Korean film festival will open Oct. 1-10 in Busan, kicking off with the Indian film Zubaan — a rather unprecedented choice with it being the debut feature of a young indie filmmaker Mozez Singh. In addition to highlighting such works by up-and-coming Asian talent, BIFF will also a feature a strong lineup of projects involving China including the closing film, Mountain Cry by Larry Yang.

BIFF had made headlines earlier this year as the local government and state-supported bodies cut down funding amid debates over the festival's artistic freedom. But organizers of Asia's premier event says it has taken the opportunity to move forward, especially since Korea's iconic veteran actress Kang Soo-yeon has come onboard as festival co-director.

"There had been many concerns, but we were able to go on and prepare our 20th edition with the support and friendship of many friends, both near and far. More importantly, it has been an honor and a great deal of help now that Kang Soo-yeon is with us," said fest director Lee Yong-kwan.

"This year is a big anniversary but the next couple of decades is much more important. Many cinematic icons that have accompanied BIFF during the past 20 years plan to attend this year, but so will numerous young cineastes that will propel the festival for the next 20 years," added Kang.

The choice of the opener reflects the festival's forward-thinking focus.

"This year's BIFF will be a gold mine of sorts for discovering new Asian filmmakers," said head programmer Kim Ji-seok. "It wasn't an easy choice to decide on piece by a new filmmaker for the opening film, but the film is produced by none other than Cannes-acclaimed producer Guneet Monga, who is well known for The Lunchbox. We chose Zubaan hoping that the audience will feel a sense of healing. The film is about the need to stop and turn back while chasing after success."

In the spirit of reflecting back on the past, BIFF will present an ambitious showcase called "Asian Cinema 100." International film professionals ranging from directors and critics to scholars and journalists have pitched in to select 100 films that exemplify the history and aesthetic value of Asian cinema. BIFF plans to update this list every five years (find 2015's list of the top 10 below).

The fest has also revamped some of its other signature programs for the big anniversary. The Korean Retrospective, which had traditionally presented films centering on an iconic Korean auteur or actor, will be more thematically diverse. This year's lineup introduces hidden gems of the 1960s, which has been dubbed as Korean cinema's Golden Age with production peaking to around 200 films per year.

"My French Cinema," meanwhile, will move away from previous editions' academic focus of French films and will rather on works that exemplify the personal interactions between Korean and French filmmakers. The section has been curated in time for the "Korea-France Year 2015-2016" feting the two countries' bilateral relations. Also hailing from Europe are many films that come in time for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

In addition to featuring films from such big cinema powerhouses, the lineup includes works from regions with more obscure industries such as Central Asia, Northern Africa and the Middle East.

Organizers have said that presenting such specially curated programs wasn't easy given recent budget cuts.

"We were unable to salvage the funds by the culture ministry and Korean Film Council that had been halved. Busan city has nevertheless helped us secure support from corporate sponsors for the Asian Film Market," said Lee. "We hope to find more alternative ways to finance the festival next year."

The Asian Film Market will run Oct. 3-6  while the Asian Project Market will open Oct. 4-6. This year's Asian Film Academy, headed by Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai, will be held Sept. 24-Oct. 11. 

Meanwhile, international VIPs slated to attend this year's BIFF include: directors Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Jia Zhangke, Naomi Kawase, Johnnie To, Lav Diaz, Eric Khoo and Claude Lelouch; as well as actors Tilda Swinton, Tang Wei and Chang Chen.

Here is the top 10 films of "Asian Cinema 100" that will be shown during this year's festival. Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love will not be shown due to the film's undergoing a re-mastering process.

-Tokyo Story by Yasujiro Ozu (Japan)

-In the Woodsby Akira Kurosawa (Japan)

-Aparajito, The Unvanquished by Satyajit Ray (India)

-A City of Sadnessby Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan)

-Seven Samuraiby Akira Kurosawa (Japan)

-A Brighter Summer Day by Edward Yang (Taiwan)

-Spring in a Small Town by Fei Mu (China)

-Still Life by Jia Zhangke (China)

-The Housemaid by Kim Ki-young (Korea)

-Close Up by Abbas Kiarostami (Iran)