Korea’s biggest cinematic extravaganza is back!
The Busan International Film Festival is on! BIFF will celebrate its 21st edition from October 6-15, screening the very best cinematic endeavors from around the world over the course of its 10-day run.
It is something of a relief to be able to report that the festival is even taking place because, for much of the year, the 2016 edition has been in doubt. Ever since BIFF screened director Kim Sang-ho’s controversial documentary The Truth Shall Not Rest with Sewol back in 2014, the fesotival has been embroiled in a dispute with Busan City regarding autonomy to the point where many wondered if BIFF would be cancelled completely. However, with the appointment of BIFF co-founder and hugely influential industry figure Kim Dong-ho as the new chairman, the debate has eased and the festival will proceed as planned.
Because of the time it has taken to get to this point, festival organizers are still busy preparing for the celebration of cinema and as such details of specific screenings will be released in the run up to opening day. Yet that said, there’s still lots to be excited for.
One of the great features of BIFF is Busan City itself, which is not only a picturesque, sunny, and friendly place to stay for a few days, but also a welcome slower-paced alternative to Seoul. The festival takes place primarily at two locations. Haeundae Beach is where most of the outdoor activities take place, with kiosks and event stalls spread along the strip of sand for people to participate in and enjoy, while special outdoor talks with film stars and key industry personnel also occur on a specially made stage on the beach throughout the festival. There are a wealth of restaurants and cafes on the promenade too, perfect for a place to rest after walking along the shore. The lion’s share of film screenings occurs at nearby Centum City, where the lavish Busan Cinema Center and several other large multiplexes are gathered. The enormous theater screens in the area are a great place to catch the latest work from renowned filmmakers, many of which may never receive a wider release across the country. Shuttle buses run between Haeundae Beach and Centum City regularly for film fans and tourists to access both areas with ease.
The diverse film categories at BIFF are constantly impressive and contain both celebrated works from international film festivals held earlier in the year (such as Cannes, Sundance, Berlin, and more), as well as scores of international premieres. The Gala Presentation program contains a selection of the most eagerly anticipated films of the year, and are typically held on the giant screens in the Busan Cinema Centre such is their popularity. New Currents is a competition category for emerging Asian filmmakers, in which two films will be chosen by a jury of experts to receive USD 30,000 each. World Cinema is a particularly large category in which celebrated films and filmmakers from non-Asian nations feature, while A Window on Asian Cinema highlights the cinematic output from the region. Korean cinema is well represented with three dedicated programs: Panorama, which provides audiences with a chance to experience the biggest and most popular K-films of the year; Vision, featuring work from independent filmmakers; and Retrospective, focusing on a Korean filmmaker who has provided a significant contribution to the industry. Meanwhile Wide Angle highlights films with a unique vision, supporting selected works with a host of cash prize awards, while Open Cinema hosts outdoor screenings of acclaimed popular films, and night owls can enjoy Midnight Passion, which screens horrors and thrillers until the sun rises. The array of programming throughout BIFF is nothing if not vast.
The Busan International Film Festival looks set to once again be the major cinema event in the peninsula, so for film fans, cineastes, or even those with an interest in visiting the port city, BIFF cannot be recommended highly enough.
When: October 6-15, 2016
Where: Busan City (Haeundae, Centum City, Nampo-dong areas)
Times: Screening times vary. Check the website for details.
Cost: Ticket prices vary per screening.
Transport: Shuttle buses transport visitors between locations.
Story by: Simon McEnteggart
Photos by: Busan International Film Festival (BIFF)