In terms of scale and prestige, the Busan International Film Festival, now in its 17th edition, certainly earns its reputation as the “Cannes of the East.” The massive new Busan Cinema Center, designed by Austrian wizards Coop Himmelblau, boasts a Gehry-like wave roof and a 4,000-seat outdoor theater in addition to state-of-the-art screening venues, restaurants, and wings devoted to movie-related art. It sits in the middle of the BIFF Village, a vast, still-morphing region of urban space boasting exhibition halls, an arts center, and the world’s largest department store, Shinsegae, which has nine floors and an equally sprawling, neon-lit multiplex where many of the festival’s 300+ titles screen for the public. Suffice to say it is unrivaled in the world. But the festival’s got much more to offer than Asian celebrities, lavish parties, and red carpet fanfare. Passionately devoted to independent and auteur cinema, BIFF is a place where Asian talents are nurtured and developed by a number of initiatives within the Asian Cinema Fund (ACF), including the Asian Network of Documentary and the Asian Film Academy. These funds provide support at every level of production, guiding projects that are a mere twinkle in the eye of a young filmmaker and providing opportunities to more established storytellers with finished work to ply on the international market.
Given these accents on quality cinema and next-generation talent, we were proud to attend Busan this year as supporters of the festival and found ourselves charmed and awed by all aspects of ACF director Hyosook Hong’s dedication to her “family” of Asian filmmakers. To our great pleasure, the ever-amiable Nelson George (ALL HAIL THE BEAT) made the trip with us from New York City and delivered two energetic talks on behalf of FOCUS FORWARD. First was his presentation to the Asian Film Academy fellows on “how to make a great documentary film,” which found George regaling his audience with a bit of recent documentary film history (What do you mean you’ve never seen The Thin Blue Line?) and rock-solid advice on building story, character, and voice. Next came his guest lecture to the ACF filmmakers on breaking into the international market, an informal talk that bubbled into a lively conversation around do’s and don’ts for landing a hit (or at least a viable play) in the U.S. and abroad. As co-hosts of the Asian Cinema Fund Night at the Haundae Grand Hotel, FOCUS FORWARD was in the spotlight once again, and after some introductory remarks had an opportunity to hobnob with city mayor Hur Nam-sik, festival director Lee Yong-Kwan, and loads of groovy film folk from around the world. If it isn’t crystal clear at this point, we’ll just go ahead and say it: We heart Busan!
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