• Interview


Welcoming Audiences in 3 Years, Nam Dongchul, Program Director of BIFF

Sep 27, 2022
  • Writerby KIM Subin
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"Watching a film in a theater together is the purpose of a film festival."



Busan in the fall is crowded with audiences once again. The 27th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) will be held from October 5 to 14 throughout Busan, centering on the Busan Cinema Center in Haeundae-gu. The Busan International Film Festival, which will welcome audiences for every screening without social distancing for the first time in 3 years, is seeking new changes by increasing the number of venues where audiences and cineastes meet. From Nam Dongchul, the program director who joined BIFF in 2008 and served as the head of the Asian Film Market and the Korean Cinema programmer, let's hear about the changes in the festival and what the festival wants to keep unchanged.


- BIFF declared going back to normal for the festival without social distancing in 3 years. Tell us how you felt while preparing for the film festival.

= In the first year of COVID-19, we postponed the film festival for 2 weeks and reduced the number of screening films. However, we chose to screen once per film at the Busan Cinema Center instead of online screening. Last year, the situation got a little better, so we had GV events online and invited some guests. Then this year, except for some countries with a long quarantine period, we could invite most overseas guests, and I think we're having the first proper film festival in a long time since 2019. I realize how good it is to watch a movie in the theater together filled with 100% of the audience. Since we haven't been able to do that for a long time, I think we are finally able to relieve the thirst and hunger this year.


The opening film, 'Scent of Wind' directed by Hadi Mohaghegh


- Do you focus on the full offline festival? 

= Even when we were having a hard time due to the spread of COVID-19, we screened films in the theater. Although short films were screened online last year, it was like a showcase to show some more short films, but the overall film festival was never organized online. I always thought it would be nice if it wasn't in that direction. Especially now, the number of people watching movies in theaters is decreasing. Even if we can't resist that trend, I hope we can keep the habit of going to the theater or the culture of watching movies at the theater.


- What did you pay most attention to the programming process this year?

= I thought we could hold various events this year. The biggest change is that we can resume the programs that have stopped and operate face-to-face activities normally. You may think that we can just do those events because we held them before, but it's not that simple. After stopping such events for 2 years, there will be no sponsors, and we will face various difficulties. So, bringing back the events is not an easy process because we have to start everything from scratch again.


- Any changes in the trend of official invitations to the film festival since the Pandemic?

= Rather than changes with films, we have some big changes when Huh Moonyoung, director of the Busan International Film Festival, joined the film festival. A representative example is the establishment of an event called 'BIFF EVERYWHERE.' Although the festival is held mainly in the Centum City area, the event was started based on the idea that even if it doesn't have the same programs as the film festival, it is necessary to create an atmosphere of watching movies together in theaters and gathering up moviegoers in the various places in Busan. So, the films will be screened in more than 10 locations this year beyond the Busan Cinema Center area. Through the plan, we firstly aimed to expand the base of the film festival, and secondly, we focused on the special program to make the film festival more professional. This year, Special Program in Focus prepared 3 special programs: 'Discovering New Japanese Cinema,' 'New Perspectives on 21st Century Documentary,' and 'In the Mood for Tony Leung.' We approached the program by focusing on what films we should pay attention to this year among the films around the world. Last year, we introduced Chinese films and films made by Asian female film directors. In that way, we will continue to develop new themes and excavate films matching the themes. Thirdly, we will have the 'On Screen' section, which was created last year. We made the section to extend the view of films and to screen the OTT series because it seems that there are parts that the film festival can embrace in the drama series.


- The number of the 'On Screen' screenings has increased from 3 series last year to 9 works this year. 

= The section was launched last year, and the audience liked it. Also, the quality of the selections was as good as films. So, we thought there was no need to limit the number of screenings to 3. As it became such a hot topic last year, many OTT companies wanted to participate in the section at the film festival, too.


'Small, Slow but Steady' directed by Miyake Sho 


- Tell us why Special Program in Focus paid attention to the young Japanese directors.

= Director Hamaguchi Ryusuke's films were so popular at the film festival last year. Before that, Japanese films usually reminded us of animations or adaptations that made TV dramas into movies, and the rest would be Kore-eda Hirokazu's films. Then, through Hamaguchi Ryusuke, interest in a new young Japanese director grew bigger. That's why we planned to show the films made by more young Japanese directors this year.


- Tell us about the background of inviting Actor Tony Leung. 

= We wanted to shed light on one of the best actors in Asia. The first name that came to mind was Tony Leung. When we proposed the special program to him, the actor wanted to meet the audience with the movie he wanted to play, and that's why 6 films of him have been selected. At the time of the invitation, the people from Hong Kong were required to quarantine for a week, so we weren't sure about his attendance. However, since the problem has been solved, he will definitely attend the special program.


- Tell us the reason the existing 'Kim Jiseok Award' has been expanded to the 'Jiseok' section.

= One of the things we made to honor the spirit of the late Program Director Kim Jiseok was the Kim Jiseok Award. Since the New Currents section judges the 1st or 2nd feature films of Asian directors, we started the Jiseok section with the idea that it would be nice to collect and award the best films of Asian directors who made more than 3 feature films. Since the award was operated in the same form as a competition section, we thought it would be better to name the section 'Jiseok' and establish itself as a competition section. It's like we reinforce the section more. The competitive section representing BIFF has been the New Currents section so far. The New Currents has an important value in discovering new Asian directors, while the Jiseok section is to select the best films made by veteran Asian directors to supplement the New Currents section.


- We're also curious about the background of launching the 'Korean Cinema Today - Special Premiere' section. Is there a reason you focus on contemporary 'commercial films?' 

= We wanted to show more new Korean films. Korean independent films have been shown a lot through the 'Vision' section and the 'New Currents' section, achieving great results. However, there were not many chances where new projects of mainstream commercial films could be introduced at the festival, and we wanted to supplement them. Screening the films already released won't be satisfactory for the audience who wants new movies. So we thought it would be better to screen films that hadn't been released yet to make them stand out. That's the idea that we decided to launch the section.


- Asian Content & Film Market (ACFM) has expanded its connection with other film festivals by establishing a 'Festival Zone,' which introduces programs and IPs of the Jeonju International Film Festival, the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, etc.

= I'm not a market manager, but there are a few things that we're doing enthusiastically for the market this year. Until now, the goal of ACFM has been to create a market that buys and sells IPs for books, webtoons, and web novels, but this year, we are launching 'Busan Story Market,' where every content can be integrated into one. I understand that there is a great interest in the market because they increasingly recognize that stories and the foundation of all content are important. As far as I know, the market managers of Cannes or Berlin are also preparing a meeting to talk with the managers of Busan. Also, there will be Festival Zone where other film festivals such as Jeonju and Bucheon can promote their programs. We are making great efforts to expand the market in many ways, and in fact, the market is expected to make great success this year. Basically, many people want to come to the market, both at home and abroad. Marché du Film at Cannes is the largest film market, but it was difficult for Japanese companies to participate in the market due to the aftermath of COVID-19 this year. Some Korean companies did the same. So, it seems that Asian film companies will finally gather in the Busan film market.


'Life & Life' directed by Ali Ghavitan


- Is there any particular film you'd like to mention this year? 

= The 10 films for the Discovering New Japanese Cinema program have actually been well received in Japan. As such, you won't regret watching each of them. Personally, the opening film, Hadi Mohaghegh's Scent of Wind is the most touching film I've seen this year. Although it's not a grand film, it will resonate with us emotionally. And this year, a documentary titled Jiseok, which depicts the life of the late Program Director Kim Jiseok, will be shown as a special screening. I hope this movie will give you a chance to think about his spirit for films again. I hope many people can love the documentary because it is well-made. And one of the trends this year is that Iranian movies are very powerful. Two Iranian films advanced to the Cannes Competition, while another 2 films made it to the Venice Competition. This is a very rare case for Asian films. It means we have so many good Iranian movies this year, and all 4 of them will be screened in Busan.


- It has been 14 years since you joined the film festival as the director of the Asian Film Market in 2008. How do you feel about the time? 

= After working hard all year round, we present films for just 10 days. I feel rewarded when a movie we selected gets good reviews, and an audience gets a big impression after watching the movie we chose. There have been many twists and turns at the Busan International Film Festival with political issues, financial difficulties, and Pandemic problems for the last 3 years. Whenever we faced each issue, we had to think about it in a new way and respond to it with new ideas. Through the process, I think I could experience a whirlpool of problems and changes in various ways. Nevertheless, the value I want to keep is, as I mentioned at the beginning of the interview, it is very important to watch a movie together in a theater, and a film festival exists for that purpose. I want to continue my work to keep the essence.


- What kind of space do you want BIFF to be for the audience and cineastes? 

= I think the biggest role of a film festival is 'encouragement'. There would be nothing sadder than that if you made a movie and you didn't get a response from anyone. However, you'll be happiest if someone watches your movie and responds such as 'I see the possibility' or 'It's good to see that you worked hard to make the film.' This kind of reaction is best achieved through a film festival. I want to help filmmakers get such reactions, and I hope that the reactions will encourage filmmakers and give them the confidence or desire to go and make another movie tomorrow.

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