New BIFF Home Draws Raves

Coop Himmelblau

Cutting-edge structure dazzles opening night gala crowd, but some festival-goers long for simplicity.

BUSAN, South Korea -- “Impressive” is the term most frequently used by festival attendees to describe the new Busan Cinema Center, in its first day of operation after the official unveiling last night for the BIFF Opening Ceremony, when Australian director and Flash Forward jury head Gillian Armstrong declared that she was “jealous” and wanted to take it home.

Armstrong’s fellow head of jury, Hong Kong helmer Yonfan of the New Currents competition, is similarly full of praise for the new venue: “It’s an enviable structure.  It’s modern, impressive, and practical.”

Chinese star Fan Bingbing was equally impressed, adding that the new venue sends a powerful message about how far the Korean film industry — and BIFF — has come.

"I thought [the new venue] was just perfect,” she said.  “It shows how seriously Korea takes film.”

The all-in-one venue even earned kudos from competing festival organizers. “It’s good to have a dedicated cinema complex,” noted Roger Garcia, executive director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival. “The building looks futuristic but serves the purpose of film exhibition well.  The Busan government really dedicated itself to it. It’s great to have a home like this. Anyone in the cultural industry can’t fail to be impressed.”

The integrated nature of the building, which had been planned to be used as a multi-cultural center throughout the year, including an opera house, cinemas and concert halls, has solved logistical problems that plagued the fest in the past.  “It provides more organization and allows the organizers to put everything in one place,” said Mylo Fausto, who is leading a Filipino delegation of 10 films in the BIFF selection.

If there is a downside to the structure it is its sheer enormity.  With a combined area of 30,000 square meters, some find it overwhelming. “It’s too big for Asia,” says Alice Yoo of the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival. “It’s not too big if it’s in the U.S. or Europe, but for Asia, it’s too big.” 

Its location also means some the relaxing seaside vibe and unique flavor of  the festival’s previous venue is now lost.  “I’ve been to the festival for the last 10 years, and I prefer the festival at the Haeundae beach. I’m nostalgic for it,” she adds.

For Koreans, however, the new structure is a source of pride. “It’s the most impressive film festival building I’ve seen,” said 75-year-ol director Im Kwon-taek, who appeared on the red carpet with Kang Su-yeon, the lead actress of Hanji, his 101st film which is screening being in the Korean Cinema Today section. “I have been to all the major film festivals around the world but this is truly amazing – especially since I’ve lived through the days when Korea was impoverished [through the Japanese colonial period and Korean War] and seeing [the Busan Cinema Center] is quite moving,” 

“It was a dream of Kim’s [Dong-ho], and now it’s come true,” added Korea National University of Arts professor Choe Jun-ho. “The city of Busan deserves something exceptional.  It’s fitting because the film festival developed with the city.  Now we have something other cities want, and we’re proud to invite them here.”