Busan Fest names new chairman and director

Asia / Pacific Roundabout

The Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) appointed Lee Yong-kwan, a former festival director, as its new board chairman during a special organizing committee assembly held on Jan. 31. During the same meeting, Jay Jeon, the former deputy director, was appointed as new festival director.

Lee Yong-kwan is one of BIFF’s founding members and previously held the positions of program director and deputy director. He later became festival director but had to step down in 2016 because of political pressure caused by the 2014 screening of the documentary film The Truth Shall Not Sink with Sewol (a.k.a. Diving Bell). Back then, the city government had demanded the screening be cancelled because of the film’s harsh criticism of authorities over their handling of a ferry disaster that had cost hundreds of lives, but Lee defied the order.

Lee has also worked as a professor of the Department of Theatre and Film at Kyungsung University in Busan, as director of Cinematheque Busan and as dean of the Graduate School of Art at Chung-Ang University in Seoul. He is currently dean of the Im Kwon Taek College of Film and Media Arts of Busan’s Dongseo University.

Jeon, meanwhile, also is a BIFF founding member and used to be director of the Asian Film Market and BIFF deputy director. The festival board last December formed a committee to seek replacements for former chairman Kim Dong-ho and festival director Kang Soo-youn, both of whom had resigned in tandem right after last year’s festival, leaving BIFF pretty much rudderless for almost four months. As new chairman, Lee is to serve a term of four years, while Jeon will serve as festival director for the next three years.

National Anthem No Longer Compulsory in Indian Theatres

India's Supreme Court in early January reversed an order that the country’s national anthem must be played in every cinema before a film screening—a ruling order that the court itself had given in 2016. The reversal apparently came in response to a government request to reconsider the controversial edict. While prior to 2016 the governments of all 29 individual Indian states could decide if the anthem should be played in cinemas and whether audiences must stand or not during the playing, it only became nationwide law in 2016. But the ruling had triggered much opposition among film fans and even led to a string of arrests and even physical assaults against individuals who refused to stand for the anthem. For example, in 2014 a man in Kerala state was arrested and charged with sedition for refusing to stand. Last year, a group of moviegoers were forcefully removed from a cinema hall in Mumbai for remaining seated; and in October 2017 a handicapped man was beaten by fellow audience members because he “refused” to stand up. The Indian government has reportedly requested the Supreme Court to reverse its ruling until a panel is formed to study the issue and decide on further procedure.

Padmaavat Triggers Violent Clashes in India

Hardline Hindu groups in northern India violently clashed with police and threatened moviegoers after controversial Bollywood romantic fantasy drama Padmaavat opened across the country on Jan. 25. According to local newspaper reports, several buses carrying advertisements for the film were pelted with rocks, while outraged mobs allegedly also attacked and vandalized a number of theatres that screened the movie. A cinema owner in Uttar Pradesh state and at least one film fan were physically assaulted, reports said.

But trouble over Padmaavat had been brewing for some time already. Even when the film was still in production, Hindu hardliners protested against its release because they deemed it disrespectful for depicting a “forbidden romance” between a Hindu queen, Padmavati, and a Muslim ruler, Alauddin Khijli, played by Bollywood starsDeepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh, respectively. Although both the figure of Queen Padmavati and the storyline of the 16th-century epic poem “Padmaavat” in which she appears are entirely fictional, the Queen nevertheless is revered as a deity by the Hindu Rajput caste.

Following rumors, theRajput caste organization last year alleged that the movie contained a controversial scene in which the Muslim ruler dreams about an intimate tryst with the Hindu queen. However,director Sanjay Leela Bhansali has always consistently denied that such a “dream sequence” existed in his film. It was only late last year that India's film censorship body, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), finally cleared the film’s release. While no cuts were ordered, the CBFC nevertheless recommended a change of the film title from the original Padmavati to the current Padmaavat, apparently in an effort to take the focus off the female character and placate Hindu protesters. Director Bhansali obviously complied, although it seems not to have done him any good. But despite the threat of violence—and perhaps in defiance of it—Padmaavat still opened in around 5,000 theatres across the vast country, although many cinemas especially in the north also said that they will not screen it, for the sake of safeguarding their properties and customers alike.

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