Everybody says it, everybody knows it: the autumn festival circuit, which bows out with Rome and London this week, is too crammed. Yet the situation staggers on from year to year, with festivals pointing frantically to their record numbers of world premieres. Even after Venice, Toronto and San Sebastian had unveiled their debuts, Pusan hit the fray with 85 world premieres out of 315 features screened - a higher tally than ever before.
As the Asian Film Market went on around it, the Pusan film festival's selection played out somewhat mutedly. While the opening film, A Gift To Stalin by Kazakh director Rustem Abdrashev, was interesting, the festival's other high-profile premiere, Zhang Yuan's Da Da's Dance, was a misfire, and other smaller titles similarly failed to impress (see Pusan reviews round-up, p29-31). While, from Venice onwards, progammers have scrabbled to find good films this year, Pusan's own lack of focus in a sprawling catalogue did not help.
Pusan's screening facilities, as they stand, are challenging and located in four separate areas of the city: it can take an hour, in bad traffic, to travel from one to another. Given this, and the fact tickets must be ordered before the festival starts to ensure a seat at screenings, Pusan itself could consider taking the step of singling out which films or which parts of the catalogue it feels are the most important or the most worthy of a delegate's attention (competition is currently restricted to Asian first and second features in New Currents - not Korean Cinema Today or even Korean Vision). The Windows on Asia section is also sprawling, mixing both new and older titles, mainstream and arthouse.
In fact, the festival is making plans to bring the entire event - festival and market - together under one roof with the completion of the Busan Film Center 'Dureraum'. A groundbreaking ceremony took place at the start of the festival, though funds have not been completed for the construction of the multi-purpose convention hall.
London enters the fray with 17 world premieres this year and Rome is about to wind up the autumn season with 18 debuts. And it is becoming increasingly clear that while world premieres are up, deals are down - nothing at Pusan excited the buyers, and there were no new buzz titles in the marketplace apart from Taiwanese box-office sensation Cape No 7.
Pusan is not alone in being unfocused: it would take a keen mind to untangle the reasoning behind Rome's programme: time perhaps for these festivals to sharpen their focus, before the market performs the task for them in a less polite manner.
Additional reporting by Jean Noh
PUSAN PROMOTION PLAN
Which were the pick of the projects at the Pusan Promotion Plan' Liz Shackleton reports
Malaysian director Yasmin Ahmad's Forget-Me-Not, which is being produced by Japan's Wa Entertainment, picked up the $20,000 Pusan Award from this year's Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP). The project tells the story of a Malay girl who visits relatives in Japan after her Japanese grandmother dies.
Poetry, which is being directed by Korea's Lee Chang-dong (Secret Sunshine) was awarded the $20,000 Kodak award for a Korean project. Fine Cut is handling international sales of the project, about a woman in her mid-60s living in poverty who attempts to compose a poem for the first time in her life.
The $10,000 Busan Film Commission Award went to Chinese director Zhang Yuan's Executioner Garden, a grisly tale set in a Shanghai prison, to be produced by Beijing Jingle Culture Development Co.
Korea-France co-production A Brand New Life, to be directed by Ounie Lecomte, picked up the $10,000 OKF Fund award, which is presented by the Overseas Korean Foundation to a project from an overseas Korean.
The Gothenburg Film Festival Fund gave its award, designed to support the selected film-maker's travel and accommodation costs, to Iranian director Mona Zandi's The Bride. The Wooridul Award, newly launched this year for Korean projects, went to Jung Bum-shik's Eugenia.
This year, the PPP scaled back the number of projects to 30, compared to 35 last year. Around 500 meetings were held during the market's four days.
New Currents awards
Land Of Scarecrows (S Kor)
Dir: Roh Gyeong-tae
Naked Of Defenses (Jap)
Dir: Masahide Ichii
KNN audience award
Dir: Chris Martinez.