Asia's crisis-hit top film festival to go ahead next month


Seoul (AFP)

Asia's top film festival will go ahead next month despite a threatened boycott by some local moviemakers seeking guarantees of artistic freedom, its head said Tuesday.

Kim Dong-Ho, chairman of the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), urged filmmakers to end their boycott and vowed to guarantee the festival's independence.

"I'm really sorry for what happened to the festival in the past... I'll do my best to restore the honour of the festival that has been undermined over the past two years", he told journalists.

The prestigious annual festival has been embroiled in a bitter row with the municipal government of the host city Busan since the screening in 2014 of a controversial documentary about the Sewol ferry disaster.

The film criticised the government's handling of the sinking in April 2014 that killed more than 300 people, mostly schoolchildren.

A flurry of official probes targeting the organising committee and an unprecedented cut in state funding last year was seen as an attack on the festival's independence. It triggered a boycott threat by an confederation of Korean filmmakers' associations.

In an attempt to smooth things over, the Busan city government -- a major BIFF sponsor -- appointed Kim, the festival's respected former founding director, as new chairman of the organising committee.

About half of the filmmakers' groups subsequently lifted the boycott.

Kim on Tuesday stressed that the committee in July passed new rules to ensure the event's artistic and political freedom.

Kim, 78, was brought in as chairman to replace Busan city mayor Suh Byung-Soo, who was at the centre of the fight over the documentary "Diving Bell" in 2014.

Suh said it was "too political" to be premiered at the BIFF, although the screening eventually went ahead.

After that, state funding for the 2015 BIFF was nearly halved and the then-festival director Lee Yong-Kwan became the target of a series of probes by state auditors.

Lee was eventually forced to step down in February after Suh refused to renew his contract.

The measures prompted hundreds of local directors, actors and producers to stage street rallies in protest at what they described as a state attempt to "tame" critics including artists.

More than 100 prominent cineastes including the directors of the Cannes, Berlin and Venice film festivals also issued an open letter in February denouncing "political pressure" on BIFF programmers.

The 21st festival will open for a 10-day run on October 6, with 123 world and international premieres and 178 other films set to be screened.

Its opening film will be South Korea's "A Quiet Dream" by Korean-Chinese director Zhang Lu, which humorously tells the story of a young woman who supports her bedridden father by running a small bar.

"The Dark Wind" by Iraq's Hussein Hassan, about a woman engaged to her lover but captured and sold as a slave by the Islamic State group , has been selected as the closing film.