Foreign entrants vie for honours at SKorean film festival

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The Independent Culture

Hakon Liu personifies the global nature of modern film-making as he explains he is a Nordic director who has brought his debut film, shot in Taiwan, to South Korea for its world premiere.


The 14th Pusan International Film Festival -- the region's largest and most prestigious such event -- has truly earned its title this year, with its first prize for non-Asian films.

And all 11 entries vying for the 20,000-dollar Flash Forward award reflect what organisers here have been saying since the nine-day event opened on Thursday -- that when it comes to making movies today, there really are no borders.

"I grew up in Taiwan but I ended up making films in Sweden," explains Liu, whose film, "Miss Kicki", is in the running for the award.

"When I first wrote the script, it was suggested we take it to Taiwan to shoot. I thought it was a crazy idea but that is how things go these days.

"This is a Swedish-Taiwanese hybrid film making its world premiere in Pusan. For Europeans this is quote exotic but that sort of half-and-half makes a full circle for me. And the more people you can appeal to with your films the better."

Liu's film charts the tension that builds between a mother and son when they visit Taiwan and the boy falls in love.

The director says being shortlisted for the Flash Forward award made the news back home in Sweden and that the attention would help him when it came to seeking funds for his next films.

"Being selected certainly made some noise," he said. "And it will make more noise when I win."

Festival director Kim Dong-ho says the Flash Forward award is designed to unearth international films -- and film-makers -- that might not normally find an audience outside their homelands.

"We think of PIFF as a platform," he says. "We are here to provide an international platform, not just for Asian films."

That is certainly the case with Israeli director Renen Schorr's "The Loners".

The film, about a riot in an Israeli military prison in 1997, won best actor and was nominated in nine other categories at the Israeli Film Academy Awards.

But Schorr was struggling to get people interested in the film outside Israel.

"The director of the Israeli film festival really liked my film so he suggested we enter it in Pusan," he says. "You are never sure who will like your film so this is a chance to see who does."

The fact that Flash Forward is open to first and second-time film-makers also helped the 57-year-old, who made "Late Summer Blues" way back in 1987.

"On a day-to-day basis I am the director of the Sam Spiegel Film [and Television] School," says the former journalist.

"And apart from that I am a slothful guy. I worked on this film for 10 years. It is rare for there to be an award for second films -- it is where film-makers normally fail -- so I am getting another chance here, and to be taken to an international audience is what every film-maker desires."

The topic of Schorr's film has sparked some controversy in Israel due to its subject matter but the director believes there is more at play than the obvious subject matter.

The film is about our history but it is also about friendship," he says. "And these sorts of themes are universal. So I am looking forward to showing the audience here that we are the same all over the world."

Daniel Nearing's entry in the Flash Forward award, meanwhile, is an adaptation of the collection of short stories, "Winesburg, Ohio", published in 1919 by the influential American author Sherwood Anderson.

Nearing has moved the setting to contemporary south Chicago and changed the community in which the action takes place as well.

"A Canadian filmmaker with a film about African-Americans making its world premiere in Korea -- it seems odd and terrifically appropriate," he says.

"In a way that is just the way the world is these days, especially the film world. All different cultures are influencing all different cultures."

The festival continues until Friday, when the winners of the Flash Forward award will be announced, alongside those of the event's main competition, the New Currents award, which offers two prizes of 30,000 dollars for first and second-time Asian filmmakers.