SEOUL:Asia’s largest movie festival kicks off Thursday at a time when the region’s influence on the global movie industry is on the rise.Entering its 20th year in the South Korean port city, the Pusan Film Festival saw its influence and size expand in stride with the growth of box office sales in the region.
Asian countries fueled growth in the global film industry last year, while box office sales in the U.S. and Canada declined. With box office sales of $12.4 billion in 2014, the Asian region is the biggest and fastest-growing movie market in the world, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.
Despite the growing influence of Asian cinema in the world, the non-competition movie festival has kept its bar of pretense and hierarchy low, unlike the historic yet hierarchical Cannes Film Festival, which turned away some women in flat shoes from a premiere this spring.
Busan cinemagoers – in flats or heels, part of the media or not – do more than just gaze at award-winning directors, K-pop stars and Hollywood celebrities gracing the red carpet. They happily stay in queues from the wee hours to get tickets, ask questions to filmmakers and actors after screenings, and join public talk shows with them on the beach.
While the glamor and glitz will not be lost in Busan, most moviegoers and industry officials will travel to South Korea’s second-largest city to discover the next-generation Wong Kar Wai or Ang Lee. The festival’s New Currents section, which premieres Asian feature movies from novice directors, has broken major talents, including Venice Film Festival Golden Lion winner Jia Zhangke. Its Asian Cinema Fund program has provided financial lifelines to promising filmmakers.
“There are a lot of movies completed by support from the Asian Cinema Fund, introduced in Busan for the first time in the world and then went on to international acclaim,” said Kim Jiseok, the Busan Film Festival’s executive programmer.
The festival has not been without challenges during its 20-year ride. The most recent setback was the budget cut by South Korea’s government after the festival went ahead with the screening of a controversial documentary last year despite pressure not to.
The state-run Korean Film Council cut its support to the film festival this year by nearly half to 800 million won ($677,000) from 1.46 billion won ($1.2 million). Many viewed the budget cut as punishment for the festival’s decision to screen the documentary, which was about the 2014 sinking of a ferry that left hundreds of people dead, most of them South Korean students on a school trip, and the government’s much-criticized rescue operation. “I felt then that our society’s democracy had a long way to go,” Kim said. After the standoff with the government, Kang Soo-yeon, an award-winning actress, was appointed the festival’s co-director. She has since vowed to stand for the value of freedom of expression.
After its opening on Thursday with “Zubaan,” an India coming-of-age drama, the festival will screen 303 movies from 75 countries, including 94 world premieres.