Crisis-hit Busan Film Festival opens


Busan (South Korea) (AFP)

The curtain was raised Thursday on the 21st Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) after two years of political infighting almost derailed the premier event of its kind in Asia.

"I just hope the festival will become strong again and now we can all just focus on the films," said Yang Ik-june, star of the Zhang Lu-directed Korean drama "A Quiet Dream", which opened the festival.

"Politicians should treat a festival like children and when children grow up they should be left to live their own lives."

Disgruntled Korean film industry representatives had threatened to disrupt BIFF's opening ceremony over their support for axed former festival head Lee Yong-kwan, who they say is the casualty of the 2014 decision to screen the controversial documentary "Diving Bell".

The film focused on the Sewol ferry disaster of that year that claimed more than 300 lives and BIFF had come under pressure from Busan mayor and then festival organising committee chairman Suh Byung-soo to remove it from its programme.

In the end the main action taken has been a boycott of the event by a number of local film industry groups – including the Directors' Guild of Korea.

But their protest over suggested political interference hasn't dissuaded international stars from the red carpet as BIFF prepares to screen around 300 films over its 10-day run.

There were wild cheers as the sun set over the Busan Cinema Centre for the likes of Japanese superstar Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai) and local heartthrob Han Hyo-joo, who co-hosted the opening ceremony with her "Cold Eyes" co-star Seol Gyeong-gu.

Hollywood's Miles Teller (Whiplash) and Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight) are among the international contingent set to appear during the course of the event.

Workers meanwhile were toiling away on Busan's Haeundae Beach, which was battered by Typhoon Chaba on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Pavilions and stages were smashed and organisers forced to shift venues for a number of the festival's popular "meet-and-greet" events for fans and their idols.

BIFF this year boasts 66 world premieres among its offerings while special programmes include a focus on the life of the master Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, who passed away in July and has been posthumously named BIFF's Asian Filmmaker of the Year.

BIFF runs until October 15.