I’m told many international guests cancelled coming to Busan International Film Festival 2107 because they were worried about a potential nuclear threat.
The media has a lot to answer for. The hype and constant playing to Trump’s tune has been scare-mongering and as facile as his most complicated sentences. It’s also deprived many people of experiencing the warmth of being with some of the most hospitable and friendly people imaginable.
Sadly, the first thing I saw when I drove into Busan at night was the lights of Trump Tower. That was quickly followed by the glimpse of a protest outside my hotel with a huge banner held up saying “US Troops Out” as a US Navy dinner was taking place inside. It was hopeful to see that South Korea is obviously keen to wear democracy on its sleeve.
BIFF itself is based around the beach and the cinema complexes. The beach area has a feel of a mini-Cannes but much more immersed in daily life – with families enjoying the promotions and red carpet moments alongside film-pros.
But just as many gather around impromptu musical and street theatre performances on the beach right into the night – a bit like Covent Garden without the hype.
Bexco – the exhibition centre where the Asian Film Market, Platform Busan and the Asian Network of Documentary (AND) programme take place – was where I spent most of my daytime hours. I’d been invited to mentor a group of young documentary makers from Korea, Hong Kong, India, Myanmar, Iran, Vietnam and China. Their ideas and ways of bringing them to life were varied but united by their energy, creativity and determination to succeed.
It was a privilege to be included at this stage of their projects and to work alongside mentors from across the world who generously shared their perspectives.
AND organisers made us feel so welcome and, outside the daytime programme, treated us to some high quality Korean food as well as pointing us to many of the events and parties that filled the evenings.
We were given a day to self-schedule and I was determined to sample some films. The cinemas themselves were huge and so comfortable they posed a danger to a jet-lagged international producer! I watched a haunting documentary about a man who lost his wife in the Tsunami in Japan and learnt to dive so he could continue the search for her body. I also caught a slow but meaningful film Makala followed the painstaking journey of a Congolese man felling a tree, turning in into charcoal and then pushing it 52k to market.
The AND programme gave space for a masterclass with Japanese Director Nobuhiro Suwa. He spoke about how he improvises with the child actors and even the star of his film Jean-Pierre Leaud. I went to the premiere of his film The Lion Sleeps Tonight and it was warm, funny and poignant. Strongly recommended. But the performance afterwards around the setting up of a live the hand-printing on stage and then interviews with Jean-Pierre and his director was almost as entertaining.
I did a bit of a Japanese-style tour of the City – running around taking quick snaps and trying to get a sense of everything in a millisecond. The beach end of Busan is beautiful if a bit sterile. The downtown area is a bit like Singapore – highly manicured and tightly managed. The citizens who live here are well-healed, aspirational and striving for a long and healthy life. Hordes of mainly elderly Koreans were out speed walking around the peninsular every morning and queuing up to buy health remedies in the day. The shopping malls were like Westfield in London on steroids.
The beach itself had showers, foot spas, open air sea-food markets and a view that provided some respite from the commercialism.
I know from filmmakers I met that there is so much more to this region than what I saw close to the surface. It may well be a taster for a return visit and some more exploration in SE Asia as I track the progress of the documentarians I met.