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Busan film fest grows on goodwill of Asia’s stars

October 9, 2013

BUSAN, South Korea (AP) — How much would it cost to hire Asia’s biggest movie stars to host the region’s largest film event?

Hong Kong star Aaron Kwok opened this year’s Busan International Film Festival for a mere 500,000 won, or $465, according to Yang Heon Kyu, who oversees the festival’s budget. In 2012, Chinese actress Tang Wei accepted the same amount.

The goodwill from big-name stars is one indication of how important Busan has become to the Asian film industry in less than two decades.

It is not just actors. Lee Chang-dong, whose “Poetry” won best screenplay at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, is receiving 1 million won ($928) to serve as dean of the festival’s 18-day training academy for novice filmmakers. Other veteran filmmakers received 300,000 won ($278) or less for teaching.

“The dean has to buy dinner for students,” said Yang, explaining why the pay is higher. China’s Jia Zhang-ke and Iran’s Abbas Kiarostami are among acclaimed filmmakers who have taught at Busan in past years.

The festival also has nearly 900 volunteers to assist audiences, screen movies, sell tickets and ensure subtitles are in place while getting paid less than $10 a day during the 10-day festival.

Volunteers are a staple of film festivals around the world, though the sheer number of them at Busan is unusual.

“There’s almost no film festivals with so many volunteers like here,” said Kim Ji-seok, the festival’s executive programmer.

The festival in Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city, is one of the most important events in the Asian film industry, drawing more than 200,000 visitors last year. China and Japan are the world’s second- and third-biggest film markets, and South Korean entertainers are regional superstars, heightening international interest in the festival.

Unlike top international film festivals in Cannes, Berlin and Venice — Busan has found a niche as a noncompetitive movie festival, organizers said, although a few prizes intended to help new directors are given out.

Tickets for “Stranger by the Lake” and “Adele: Chapter 1& 2,” both from Cannes, were highly sought in Busan, partly because their nudity and explicit sex scenes were expected to make local releases tough.

“Local moviegoers can see award-winning works from Cannes and Berlin in the past year and foreign audiences can see all Asian and Korean movies,” said Lee Yong-kwan, the festival’s director.

Busan also distinguished itself from older festivals by helping unearth new talent in Asia. Some 94 out of 301 movies from 70 countries selected for this year were created by first- or second-time filmmakers. The festival opened last week with a drama by Khyentse Norbu, a Buddhist monk from Bhutan, and closes with “The Dinner,” Kim Dong-hyun’s independent feature made outside the local studio system.

The festival, which runs from Oct. 3-12, coincides with events such as the Asian Project Market and Asian Film Academy, so new cineastes can meet with veteran moviemakers, investors and sales officials from around the world and launch their careers.

Thai filmmaker Sopawan Boonnimitra, co-director of “The Isthmus,” said she hoped her debut feature would be screened in Busan because she wanted to see reactions from Korean audiences. Her film is one of 12 competing for the $30,000 New Currents awards that fund two first- or second-time Asian filmmakers.

Busan’s budget for this year increased slightly from last year to 12.5 billion won ($11.6 million), thanks to increased corporate sponsorship. That is larger than the Tokyo International Film Festival, which operated on a $7 million budget, and a festival in Hong Kong, which had $5 million. Busan city government has been contributing about half of the film festival’s annual budget for years, while the Seoul government offered 1.5 billion won in 2013.

Even though love of Asian cinema and the goodwill of stars and volunteers have helped drive the festival’s growth in the last 18 years, the organizer acknowledged the festival might face pressure to pay better.

“People work for the festival because of their passion for film but they don’t get paid much,” said Yang. “This could be an issue in the future.”


AP writers Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Follow Youkyung Lee on Twitter: www.twitter.com/YKLeeAP

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