This year we may not be able to expect October in Busan to be colored with an air of festivity. Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), which has made a huge contribution in discovering new and unknown filmmakers as well as sponsoring good films over the last twenty years, is now in danger. A conflict between BIFF and Busan Metropolitan City started back in 2014 when BIFF had refused to withdraw the screening of Diving Bell, a documentary film on the Sewol Ferry disaster. The conflict is still going on and it even made it unclear whether this year's festival will be held or not. Currently, an emergency committee for saving BIFF has been established and many filmmakers around the world have declared a boycott on the festival.
BIFF Timeline Since 2014
Seo Byeong-su, the Mayor of Busan, demands BIFF to withdraw the screening of Diving Bell, a documentary film on the Sewol Ferry disaster. BIFF refuses.
Busan City recommends Lee Yong-kwan, the executive director of BIFF, to resign.
Busan City demands a renewal of personnel in BIFF.
The Korean Film Commission cuts back budgets for BIFF by forty percent.
Busan City prosecutes Mr. Lee based on the advice by the Board of Audit and Inspection.
Busan City declares that Mr. Lee cannot be reassigned as the executive director.
An emergency committee for saving BIFF gives Busan City a final notice to boycott.
The emergency committee and Busan City come to an agreement to have Kim Dong-ho, who once was an executive director, as a chief director of the festival.
By demanding the withdrawal of the screening of a certain film, Busan City had seriously ruined the independence of the festival. The mayor had explained that their demand is fair in that Diving Bell distorts political neutrality, but such intervention from politics has never happened in other film festivals in other countries. In 2004, despite the controversy surrounding the film's political orientation, Cannes Film Festival decided to screen Fahrenheit 911 and even gave it the Palme d'Or, the highest award for the best film at the festival. About this, Thierry Fremaux, the chief director of the festival had remarked, "It is Michael Moore, the director of Fahrenheit 911, who is political, not the festival." Also, Berlin International Film Festival has traditionally been run by both Berlin City and the German government, while Germany's minister for culture serves as a chief director. However, the executive committee of the festival has never been influenced by external pressure from the city or government.
This Year's BIFF
It might be a great grief to film lovers, but the future of this year's BIFF does not seem to be bright as a result due to a series of events described above. Aside from screenings, the festival manages many programs including Asian Film Market and/or Asian Film Academy. Those programs take at least a year to be prepared properly. Unfortunately, the conflict paralyzed progress on everything for a while, and considering that not many months are left before the festival is to be held, a preparatory period is far from enough. What is short is not only time. BIFF is also suffering from a lack of budget. To live with a decreased budget, it seems to be inevitable for the festival to reduce its size. Also, it would be better for you not to expect countless celebrities visiting Busan and various films in theaters this year. As many people who work for film industries, such as directors and actors, declared that they intend to boycott; thus, it will not be the same as previous festivals.
However, even inside the emergency committee there are voices insisting that the festival must be held. And recently in May, the Korean Film Commission announced that they will supply a more robust budget to BIFF if both parties succeed in negotiation. Like this, as long as conviction and aspiration for the festival exists, it is too early to abandon all hope.
"It's easy to forget that South Korea is still a very young democracy. Creative freedom for artists and filmmakers has been mostly achieved over the past few decades, but it is still a work in progress that at times needs to be defended," said Darcy Paquet, a Seoul-based film critic. And at this moment, Busan International Film Festival, which has grown near us over the past twenty years, needs our attention and affection more than ever. BIFF, "Being Independent For Freedom." That is the point where sincere hopes from filmmakers all around the world and people who love films and art converge.
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