Iran's Mohsen Makhmalbaf Readies Doc on Busan Festival Founder Kim Dong-ho

Mohsen Makhmalbaf

"Ongoing Smile," the filmmaker's hour-long piece on the influential South Korean film figure will premiere at the Busan festival in October, followed by showings in Beirut and Tokyo’s FilmEx.

LONDON – Two years after leaving his position at the helm of the Busan International Film Festival, Kim Dong-ho will be returning to the showcase this October -- on the screen, that is, as the subject of a new documentary about his life.

Directed by Iran's Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the 52-minute Ongoing Smile will be screened at the festival in October, the Iranian director told The Hollywood Reporter in London, where he is now based.

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Kim founded the Busan International Film Festival in the southern South Korean port city of its name in 1996 and ran the event until 2010. He is widely credited with guiding the event to its current state of prestige and influence, as Asia's premiere international film festival. The festival's rise also coincided with -- and aided -- the emergence of Korean cinema as a major force in the global art-house scene. 

Makhmalbaf said his film would incorporate footage he shot of Kim working at the Busan festival, making his first film -- Jury, a fictional short featuring real-life, well-known filmmakers and critics going about the business of discussing award entrants in a festival competition -- and also his domestic life away from the spotlight.

The director said he first met Kim in 2007 in at festival in Spain, and their friendship began when he ran into the veteran Korean cinema doyen jogging in the streets in the early morning.

“He woke up every day at 4 a.m., but he went to bed at midnight,” Makhmalbaf said. “That’s why he could do so many things away from his work -- the painting, the calligraphy and so on.”

Since then, Makhmalbaf has been a regular presence at Busan, and he chaired the festival's annual Asia Film Academy in 2007.

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The Busan premiere of Ongoing Smile -- which the director said will then be shown at the Beirut festival and Tokyo’s FilmEx showcase -- will be part of a double-bill appearance for Makhmalbaf. The director will also be present at the festival’s project-pitch event Asian Film Market with The President, a film about a deposed tyrant who goes on the run with his son disguised as traveling musicians, across the country he once ruled.  

The director said The President stemmed from a screenplay he wrote years ago, and he reworked and updated it after a visit to Georgia, where he said would provide the best visual backdrop for the film.

Shooting of the film is slated to begin early next year, he added, with his son Maysam -- who also appeared alongside himself in The Gardener -- co-producing with Britain’s Mike Downey and Sam Taylor of Film & Music Entertainment, Georgia’s Vladimir Katcharava of 20 Steps, and also Germany’s Rudolph Herzog from Bruemmer and Herzog Filmproduktion.

Makhmalbaf's pair of Busan appearances caps a busy year for the director, who is now also finishing two short films set in Italy and has also shot footage for another fictional short about an Iranian political refugee struggling to come to terms with his past and his present life in London.

The director himself now lives in the British capital with his family, the latest of four destinations he has called home since he left his country in reaction to the Iranian authorities’ heavy-handed clampdown on dissidents after the controversial 2008 presidential elections.

Makhmalbaf moved from Tehran to Afghanistan, then to Tajikistan, and then to Paris, where he was provided with a French passport. The director said his children -- Samira, Maysam and Hana, all of whom are active filmmakers -- have yet to attain passports, and can only travel on one-off documents.