Pusan festival opens window wider to world to stay on top

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The Independent Culture
(AFP) -

Asia's biggest film festival rolls out the red carpet Thursday, buoyed by more funds, a new home and a determination to remain the premier springboard for regional talent to attain global recognition.

The world's financial woes have forced many film festivals to scale back operations this year due to budget restraints. But there seem to be no such worries in the bustling South Korean port city of Busan.

The October 8-16 Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF), which uses the city's old spelling, will this year unveil its first major prize for international films.

It will be housed in the plush surrounds of the Shinsegae mall in Centum City, a purpose-built suburb which the city hopes will soon become an Asian hub for both pre- and post-film production.

"The Pusan International Film Festival has been the window to the world for Asian films, including Korea's," said PIFF head of programming, Park Do-Sin.

"Many independent and artistic films from Asian regions have been presented here and have gone on to achieve worldwide attention. Of course there are many other factors as to why this has happened but we, in some part, have contributed to the recent success of Asian cinema as a whole."

It is a good thing they have. The 22-year-old Tokyo International Film Festival, held this year from October 17-25, is re-emerging as a major industry player, while June's Shanghai International Film Festival is now seen as the gateway to China and its rapidly developing film industry.

Combined, they have added pressure on the Busan event to maintain its relevance.

PIFF organisers have worked to increase the scope of their festival, inviting more international buyers and showcasing the work of a more varied range of Asian directors at the Asian Film Market that runs side-by-side with the main event.

They have also ensured the cinema-going public is kept happy by increasing both the number of screenings and the number of world premieres.

This year the programme boasts 98 world premieres among its 355 scheduled films from 70 countries.

"As well as our public film screenings, we have launched many projects and programmes over the last few years," said Nam Dong-Chul, head of the Asian Film Market.

Nam said the market, while only four years old, was winning recognition as a gathering place for film industry people from around the world.

"Busan's ambition to grow from the window of Asian cinema into the hub of Asian film industry will be realised through the market.

"Our projects and programmes have helped many Asian film-makers realise their dreams in film-making and they in the future will be key film-makers in the history of cinema," Nam said.

Among those who have already found an international audience after gaining prominence at PIFF are South Koreans Kim Ki-Duk, who won best director at the Berlin Film Festival for 2004's "Samaritan Girl," and Park Chan-Wook, famous for the controversial violent Cannes Grand Prize-winning thriller "Old Boy" (2004).

The festival begins with the world premiere of the Jang Jin-directed "Good Morning President." It ends on October 16 with the international premiere of the Chinese thriller "The Message."

While Asian films are to the fore this year, there is also a more distinct international flavour.

The festival's main prize is the 30,000 dollar New Currents Award, which hands out two such cheques to first- and second-time Asian film-makers.

In addition, this year will see the launch of the 20,000 dollar Flash Forward Award for first and second-time international directors.

International guests will include A-list actors Tilda Swinton and Josh Harnett and Hollywood power-brokers Bryan Singer (director/producer of "X-Men" and "The Usual Suspects") and John Landau (producer of "Titanic"), who will both host lectures.

Head of this year's New Currents jury is Oscar-nominated French director Jean-Jacques Beineix ("Betty Blue").

That link between the Asian and international film industries helps PIFF maintain its importance, according to Esther Yeung of the Fortissimo Films international sales agency.

"For us, PIFF is not simply a festival," said Yeung.

"It is an event with a very good project market and a film market with a very strong focus on Asian cinema. That's why we can't afford to miss the festival.

"It's the best place there is for us to focus on Asian projects and take them to the world."