Top Asian film festival aims to break boundaries

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The Independent Culture

After the fanfare of opening night Asia's premier film festival gets down to business in the South Korean port city of Busan Friday with a boundary-busting programme of regional cinema.

An array of international film stars dazzled on the red carpet as the 15th Pusan International Film Festival kicked off Thursday evening with an outdoor screening of Chinese's director Zhang Yimou's "Under the Hawthorn Tree".

The acclaimed director set the scene for the nine-day film fest, declaring that the event - "the largest and greatest festival in Asia" - is one that "gives film-makers opportunities."

Organisers have tried to do just that this year with an eclectic line-up of films and special events laid out for the more than 150,000 film lovers expected to flock to town before the festival closes on October 15.

The festival was founded to promote Asia's vast independent filmmaking scene and it offers a main jury prize of 30,000 dollars - the New Currents award - to two first or second time Asian directors.

This year there are 13 films vying for the award from as far afield as Iraq and Vietnam.

Heading the jury is Japanese costume designer Emi Wada, 73, who won an Oscar for her work on Akira Kirosawa's "Ran", joking that she was handed the role "simply because I am the eldest".

"When judging these films we have to look at what significance will they have in the history of cinema," she said. "These films will influence the next generation of film-makers so we will have to consider this."

Fellow jury member Kim Yun-Jin, star of the hit US TV series "Lost", said she had turned to festival director Kim Dong-Ho for advice on how to judge the films.

"He said to me to go with whatever moves your heart, so that's what I will do," she said.

The New Currents award will be announced on October 15.

One of the most anticipated sections at PIFF this year is entitled "Kurdish Cinema: The Unconquered Spirit", which focuses on an ethnic minority spread throughout the Middle East and Central Asia.

"Kurdish cinema does not have industry or national cinema per se," explained Cho Young-Jung, who has programmed the festival's Kurdish section which includes eight films from eight directors.

"But Kurdish cinema certainly exists in the film world. Kurdish film-makers intrigued me with their hopeful and heartwarming cinematic view despite of their culture's tragic history.

"This programme, I hope, will bring the new understanding of Asian history and new boundary for Asian cinema."

There are also programmes turning their attention to South Korea's up-and-coming film-makers and a buzz this year surrounds the Korean Cinema Today section, which features films from some of the country's hottest directors.

In this section, experimental film-maker Inan makes his feature debut with "Ordinary Days" - a look at the everyday life of a group of modern Korean citizens - while Jeon Kyu-Hwan returns with "Dance Town", the third in his "Town" series of films, which have been hits at festivals around the world.

"Dance Town" looks at the life of a female North Korean defector.

The festival also promotes the often neglected Asian documentary scene though its Wide Angle programme which this year features 26 feature productions and a series of short films.

They cover topics as diverse as the fate of a coal-mining town in China ("New Castle") to the life of a young Kashmiri footballer ("Inshallah, Football").

But there is plenty of cinema - and cinematic events - designed for pure entertainment, too.

Pavilions set up on the sand of Busan's famous Haeundae beach, where fans will get to rub shoulders with international stars.

On the opening night, thousands of screaming fans welcomed South Korean heartthrobs such as Won Bin and Lee Yo-Won, while attention also focused on Kim Yun-Jin, Japanese starlet Yu Aoi and Chinese star Tang Wei.

Hollywood heavyweights Oliver Stone and Willem Dafoe are also scheduled to arrive in town for the festival, along with Bollywood golden couple Aishwarya Rai and her husband Abhishek Bachchan, and French actress Juliette Binoche.