Monday, January 26, 2015

News: Busan Asks BIFF Director to Step Down, He Refuses (2nd UPDATE)

By Pierce Conran

2nd Update (01/27) - Though the basic facts remains the same (refer to the original post and 1st update below), here is some clarification on the current situation, as explained in a Screen Daily article:
  • Last Friday (January 23rd), BIFF Director Lee Yong-kwan met with Jung Gyung-jin, Busan's vice mayor for administrative affairs, and culture and tourism bureau director-general Kim Kwang-hee. Citing the poor results of a recent audit (which were not shared with Lee), they suggested he should step down. Lee inquired as to whether they were conveying Busan Mayor Suh Byung-soo's opinion. They confirmed this to be the case.
  • On January 24th, Busan City posted an official statement calling for drastic reform ahead of BIFF's upcoming 20th edition. They referred to the festival's annual budget, which has risen to $11.2 million, and its 38-strong permanent staff. In addition, they stated that the festival had failed to inform BIFF's executive committee (which includes city officials) of program selections.
  • BIFF released its own statement on the morning of January 26th denying the city's accusations and requesting that they issue them an official document detailing their grievances.
  • At the same time, 12 organizations, spanning guilds representing the local industry's directors, screenwriters, producers and cinematographers, the Korean Association of Film Critics, the Korean Film Marketers Association, the Federation of Korea Movie Worker’s Union and the Association of Korean Independent Film and Video, issued a joint statement urging the city to withdraw its demand for Lee's resignation. They called the request an act of retaliation and pointed out that the Mayor was overstepping his bounds as chairman of BIFF's executive committee.
  • Lee's current contract, his second as festival director (though he has been involved as a co-founder, programmer and vice-director ever since its founding in 1996), is due to expire in February 2016.
  • Speaking to Screen Daily, Lee said “It’s an absurd situation. I have no intention of quitting and will continue to prepare for the festival’s 20th anniversary.”
1st Update (01/26) - Things are heating up as the Mayor of Busan, Suh Byung-soo, who is also the Chairman of BIFF's executive committee, is still pushing for BIFF Director Lee Yong-kwan's resignation. Since news initially broke on the story, a coalition of 12 domestic organizations, including those representing Korea's film writers, directors and critics, have released a joint statement urging the Mayor to withdraw his request.

Word is that a protest may take place during next month's Berlin Film Festival, reminiscent of a similar demonstration that took place in Cannes in 2006 when the government slashed by half the domestic exhibition quotas put in place to protect the local industry. Film industry figures may also boycott this year's BIFF and the use of Busan as a filming location. Korean film critic Darcy Paquet expressed the following opinion on twitter with regards to the situation:

Previously (01/24) - Lee Yong-kwan, the director of the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), has been asked to step down by the City of Busan. The request has purportedly been made in light of a recent audit, but Lee is refusing to resign. Many believe that the real reason for the recommendation has to do with the controversial screening of the documentary The Truth Shall Not Sink Sewol at last October's edition.

Ahead of the last year's edition, the City had urged the festival not to screen the film, which is critical of the way government and media behaved in the wake of Sewol Ferry sinking tragedy. BIFF organizers, with the support of many in the industry, refused to cancel the screening, which became a media event during the festival.

It's not the first time that conservative Korean politics have clashed with the more liberally minded film industry. Three years ago, Yoo Un-seong, the head programmer of the Jeonju Film Festival, was ousted for his views on the role of JIFF by regional powers, and controversial films such as Project Cheonan Ship (2012) have seen their release schedules greatly affected due to conservative pressure.

Rather than speculate about the truth behind this situation, we will update you with more when the story is more clear. BIFF will stage its 20th edition this coming October.

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1 comment:

  1. On the spectator level BIFF's management is extremely poor. I've had private discussions with both industry professionals and festival freelancers who admit they have no idea what BIFF's increasingly large budget is actually being used to do. Tempting as it is to blame all of this on politics rumblings about incompetence on the administrative level are nothing new.