Amid the glitz and glamor of the Busan International Film Festival’s opening night, Busan Mayor Park Heong-joon’s words resonated deeply: “I hope we can communicate and reconcile again.” Little did he know that this sentiment would encapsulate the festival’s own journey.
This year’s festival, marked by the thought-provoking film “Because I Hate Korea,” dove into the complexities of Korean society – addressing rigid norms, unwavering loyalties, grueling work hours, and dismal pay that often compel individuals to seek refuge in places like laid-back New Zealand. However, what emerged as the festival’s saving grace was its remarkable resilience in the face of adversity.
The Film Festival
Midway through the year, the festival faced an internal crisis when chairman Lee Yong-kwan triggered a chain of events that led to multiple resignations. This incident brought to light the longstanding tension between the city and the festival, causing a rift with local sponsors and industry guilds. This turbulence mirrored the bitter infighting that followed the 2014 “The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol” debacle.
Korean film festivals have always been platforms for impassioned socio political debates, with freedom of expression at their core. This year, amidst the buzz of slogans like “Busan Is Ready” for the 2030 World Expo, the festival managed to retain its essence despite the loss of sponsors.
Under the steady guidance of interim festival director Nam Dong-chul, the festival’s lineup continued its tradition of championing Asian cinema and unearthing fresh talent. With two competition sections, New Currents and Jiseok, catering to filmmakers at different stages of their careers, and a Korean program showcasing world premieres from budding talents, Busan remained a nurturing ground for creativity.
This year, the festival shone a spotlight on Indonesian cinema and filmmaking within the Korean diaspora, cementing Busan’s role as a global hub for Asian art cinema. Among the luminaries in attendance were stars like Chow Yun-fat, Hamaguchi Ryusuke, and Fan Bingbing, adding to the festival’s allure.
While the festival celebrated the legacy of Korean cinema and paid tribute to the late actor Yoon Jeong-hee, the industry pondered its future. Can Korean cinema’s box office reclaim its pre-pandemic glory? Will the surging global streaming industry reshape the film sector? Can the industry’s innovative spirit thrive alongside the success of television?
As the festival embraced more TV series and recognized Asian “content,” it became evident that the industry was evolving. With a new generation of leadership, Busan was at the forefront of adapting to these changes, reaffirming its status as a beacon of Asian cinema in a world undergoing rapid transformation. In the spirit of Mayor Park’s words, the festival and Korean cinema aspire to foster communication and reconciliation, forging ahead with resilience and adaptability in the face of an ever-changing landscape.