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Shaped by COVID, Busan Festival Announces In-Person Event, Seeks Strategic Change

·3-min read

Asia’s largest film festival, the Busan International Film Festival aims to become both more relevant in the wider Asia region and simultaneously more in touch with its local community.

This year, it has been downsized compared with the pre-pandemic era. But its 2021 edition will still weigh in at 223 films (features and shorts) from 70 territories.

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All feature films will get multiple in-person screenings across six complexes with a total of 29 screens. That’s an improvement on 2020, when films only screened once in theaters. But restrictions remain: each venue will be limited to 50% capacity and all tickets must be reserved online and in advance.

The 26th edition of the festival is set to run Oct. 6-16, 2021.

New festival director, Huh Moon-young admitted that the coronavirus conditions in Asia-Pacific currently make it “almost impossible” for many visitors from Asia to travel to the festival. He forecast just 20-30 European and U.S. visitors.

Programming head Nam Dong-chul said that the festival is limited to just three gala presentations, as only two international directors were willing and able to travel: France’s Leos Carax with his Cannes film “Annette,” and Japan’s Hamaguchi Ryusuke with another Cannes film “Drive My Car,” and his earlier “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.” The New Currents competition section and the Kim Ji-seok Award contenders were all announced in recent weeks.

The festival’s opening and closing ceremonies, Open Talks, and outdoor fan greetings will be held in person. Organizers said that the opening ceremony in the purpose-built Busan Cinema Center will be limited to 1,200 spectators.

Unlike last year’s festival, a real-world press center will also be in operation. But the Asian Cinema Fund, the Asian Film Academy and the Platform Busan events are suspended this year.

The previously announced opening film is Im Sang-soo’s “Heaven: To the Land of Happiness,” a title previously selected for the canceled 2020 edition of Cannes. The closing film was announced Tuesday as “Anita,” a biopic of Hong Kong singer-actor Anita Mui, directed by Longman Leung.

The Asian Contents & Film Market will once again be held online. Within the market, the Entertainment Intellectual Property Market (E-IP Market) and the Asian Project Market (APM) will host face-to-face meetings at the market site for participants physically in Korea.

Ahead of its annual lineup announcement on Wednesday, the festival unveiled a plans for a ten-year restructuring program.

Festival chairman Lee Yong-kwan said that the restructuring program will be finalized by February 2022 and then submitted for approval from city authorities. Busan mayor, present in person at the lineup announcement, voiced strong support for the festival, which he called “Asia’s best.”

Even ahead of that, the festival this year is launching two new sections. It recently announced the launch of the On Screen section to give festival platform to streaming series. So far it has announced three, but Huh said that more may yet be added. He said that there is no longer a boundary between film and series.

In a second move, the festival is creating “Actor’s House,” in which actors interact with the audience in conversations about their careers. A simultaneous screening and guest visit took place in Thailand and Vietnam during the 2020 edition of the festival. This year, live guest visits will take place in Thailand and Singapore.

Huh admitted that the coronavirus conditions in Asia-Pacific currently make it “almost impossible” for many visitors from Asia to travel to the festival. He forecast just 20-30 European and U.S. visitors.

Veteran Korean director Im Kwon-taek was named Asian Filmmaker of the Year and will receive a prize in person at the festival. As previously announced, the festival’s other honorary award, the Korean Cinema Award will go to producer Lee Choon-young.

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