Pusan's AFM has strong opening


PUSAN, South Korea -- The first Asian Film Market opened Sunday, reflecting this seaport's desire to mold itself into the "Cannes of Asia."

Launched on a budget of $3 million, 50% underwritten by the city's 3.5 million people, the market appears at first blush to have succeeded in expanding for the better the 11th annual Pusan International Film Festival.

In spite of logistical setbacks, many of the 2,000 attendees, including 400 buyers and several dozen mostly East Asian filmmakers and actors, said they were hopeful business might get done and could imagine coming back.

Overlooking Pusan's sandy beachfront from his event headquarters office in the Grand Hotel, market co-director Park Kwang-Su said he wants Pusan to surpass the Hong Kong Film Mart held each March.

"We wish to serve all aspects of the film business and want this market to be very busy," Park said.

To that end, Park also increased by nine to 36 the number of films featured in the Pusan Promotion Plan, a curated competition for distribution contracts. Those films include Tsai Ming-liang's new film from Taiwan, "Faces," and Raul Ruiz's "Miss Christina" from France.

Highlighting talent in front of the camera was a series of open meetings with rising Asian actors who gathered to talk about their work with market participants.

Market offices were busy on the higher floors of the hotel, where elevators were packed and slow. Given the crowd, it may have been lucky that the event's timing -- just before its namesake in Los Angeles -- kept attendance in line with organizers' expectations.

"Many people have not come because they are preparing for the American Film Market, two weeks from now," Park said.

Hoping to expand next year, Pusan's AFM will begin 10 days earlier, on Oct. 4, to avoid falling so close to the L.A. event. Park said the market would grow because of the inclusion of more commercial films.

Despite the glitches, attendees strolling the busy halls had positive reactions overall.

"Adding AFM to PIFF has given Pusan the critical mass that puts it at the forefront of Asian festivals," said Michael Lake, who oversaw such productions as "The Matrix" for Village Roadshow and Warner Bros. in Los Angeles. Visiting from Australia, where he now runs his own production company, Lake said Pusan was the ideal place to find partners as Australia's industry looks to expand into Asia.

Wang Zhonglei, president of Beijing-based Huayi Brothers Film Investment Co., said Pusan's atmosphere -- the bustling restaurants, the array of parties, the warm weather -- gave the port "the potential to become the Cannes of Asia."

"Pusan is the only Asian city now aggressive enough to ask the market what it wants and deliver," said Wang.

Adlabs of Bollywood, Bombay's largest film processor-turned-production company, sent Aliya Curmally to test the market waters. Pleased that "Krrish," Adlabs' action thriller with musical numbers, would screen at the PIFF's largest venue Monday night, Curmally, an assistant sales manager, said the market size would help international sales agent Golden Network of Hong Kong make a deal.

"Pusan is giving a lot of exposure to a Bollywood film it would never have had before," Curmally said.