Busan: New Currents Jurors Discuss Diversity in Asian Cinema

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Shi Nansun

The South Korean film festival’s main competition section features more works by female talent and hailing from obscure regions.

Jury members of New Currents, the Busan International Film Festival’s (BIFF) main competition section for first or second features by Asian filmmakers, gathered on Friday to share their prospects of viewing this year’s 10 titles. This year’s jury headed by South Korean filmmaker-professor Kim Hong-joon includes Hong Kong producer Shi Nansun, Macedonian actress and producer Labina Mitevska, Sydney Film Festival director Nashen Moodley, and Japanese actor Jun Kunimura.

Jury members were happy to discuss diversity issues in Asian cinema, including gender equality. This year’s selection features a noticeable presence of female directors; two selections from South Korea are by emerging women filmmakers, Second Life by Park Young-ju and House of Hummingbird by Kim Bo-ra.

“When art is good it’s good no matter whether it’s [by a director who is] female or male. But we should have equality and the female voice is not heard enough,” said Mitevska, who went on to emphasize that women need to be better represented not only in the director’s chair but also in festival programming as well as in other industries such as politics.

She also shared her experience working as an actress for over 20 years in Macedonia, where she felt her opinions were often dismissed on the film set. “It took over 20 years to get the right spot [when shooting action movies],” she said.

Shi, a star producer who has been behind scores of Hong Kong blockbusters, said she was fortunate not to have faced sexual discrimination back home. As a juror, she agreed with Mitevska that art should be judged fairly regardless of gender factors and added that she will not engage in affirmative action for women. “We cannot be prejudiced the other way, we should not give a film a better opinion just because it was made by a woman.”

Meanwhile, festival director Jay Jeon underscored how this year’s selection reflects how regionally diverse Asian cinema is becoming.

“Asian cinema has enjoyed unprecedented success at Cannes and Venice among other international film festivals,” said Jeon. “But if award-winning films had previously been limited to Northeast Asia I believe Asian cinema as a whole is [being well represented]. I believe this is due to how gaps in economic and cultural differences are becoming small among Asian countries.”

The New Currents selection includes works from more obscure regions such as Kyrgyzstan (Aurora) and Bhutan/Germany/Nepal (The Red Phallus).

“[Busan] has been the most important film festival for Asian cinema, particularly for discovering new talent. That tradition has continued and many people will [continue to discover new Asian filmmakers] especially in honor of [late head programmer] Kim Ji-seok who was a real pioneer in discovering Asian films,” said Moodley.

Kunimura, who rose to stardom in South Korea for his role in the 2016 Cannes title The Wailing, also said he was happy to return to the country. “Koreans are extremely enthusiastic about cinema, which I believe is a great medium that transcends barriers,” he said.

“This year’s panel of judges is more diverse than ever, and I believe it was meticulously planned to be so by organizers. I will try my best to act as a moderator for everyone to take part in active discussions,” said jury head Kim.

"In many industries, including film, you need new blood for that industry to prosper. I'm excited to watch new talent from Asia," said Shi.

BIFF will continue through Oct. 13.