BIFF “not in crisis” over U.S.-North Korea issues


Despite rumors circulating at the soon-to-wrap Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) in the South Korean port city of Busan that the event had been negatively affected by the ongoing war-of-words between the Trump administration and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, a programmer at the festival has insisted that the speculations were groundless.

“There is no crisis in this regard,” Kim Young-woo, a programmer responsible for the festival’s Asian film selection, told FJI. He said that although there currently is a certain amount of tensions between China and South Korea over the U.S.-North Korea issue and some Koreans are concerned the situation might escalate, it had not adversely affected film sourcing from mainland China.

“Despite the prevailing [political] situation, it was my intention from the beginning to get [mainland] Chinese movies into the festival program, and the response has been very positive,” Kim said. “Art should not be affected by politics, and that includes film.”

However, he conceded that there had been “some” Chinese filmmakers who “took a cautious approach and were reluctant to submit their films to the festival” but that the festival had nevertheless succeeded in including 15 films from the mainland into its programming.

Kim also dismissed as groundless observations by some that a perceived “lack” of European and North American productions from the festival program was a sign that BIFF had suffered from the political developments.

“This is just not the case,” Kim said. “From its very inception 22 years ago, BIFF has always put a focus on Asian cinema, with a particular spotlight on Korean films, and we will continue showcasing Asian films to the world.”

To illustrate his point that the observation was misleading, he said that out of a total of 300 selected films this year, BIFF actually showcased 25 North American and 53 European films, as well as 119 Asian productions. “So in fact the proportion of Asian versus Western films almost balance each other out.”

If BIFF is rattled by any “crisis” to speak of, it is entirely borne on internal factors rather than international influences. The unexpected passing of BIFF co-founder and chief programmer Kim Ji-seok from a heart attack while attending the Cannes Film Festival in May created a sudden vacuum and it was initially feared this could throw the entire festival into disarray and utter chaos.

Luckily, this didn’t happen. Despite the tragic loss things appeared to be running smoothly this year – and perhaps not in small part thanks to the dedication of capable and experienced junior programmers like Kim Young-woo.

But some other concerns are already lurking around the corner. Festival chairman Kim Dong-ho and festival director Kang Soo-youn both have tendered their resignations and are expected to vacate their positions immediately after BIFF’s closing and awards ceremony on October 21.

This will leave the festival pretty much rudderless for at least four months, as the next annual board meeting, during which a new chairman and director can be elected, is only scheduled at the end of February coming year.

So is there a crisis at BIFF? Well, if there is, it is home-made and hopefully manageable. But it certainly has got nothing to do with either Trump or North Korea.