Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) chairman Kim Dong-ho has made a public apology and vowed to have BIFF’s articles of association changed by the end of July so that local filmmakers can call off their boycott.
At a press conference today in Seoul, Kim noted he had been appointed the festival’s first non-governmental organising committee chairman on May 24 through a partial change in the articles, and thought it appropriate that he take on the mantle by doing what his predecessor, Busan mayor and former chairman ex officio Suh Byung-soo, had failed to do.
“As the new organising committee chairman, I would like to apologise to the nation and people foreign and domestic to whom we have caused concern over the past year and eight months,” he said, referring to the controversy and crises the festival has been through since the screening of The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol, which was carried out against Suh’s wishes.
“I would like to thank the domestic and foreign film industry members who have sent support to the Busan International Film Festival as it has been working to preserve freedom of expression,” he said.
Changing the rules
The Korean Film Group’s Emergency Committee for Defending BIFF’s Independence, a group of nine major film industry organisations, has not retracted the boycott it declared in April.
Acknowledging they needed justification, Kim vowed he would have the articles of association changed to guarantee the festival’s independence “by mid-July or the end of July at the latest.”
He explained that otherwise it would be too late for local filmmakers and importers to submit titles for this year’s edition (October 6-15).
Kim said the necessary changes would specify that firstly, “no institution or group or individual could be involved in the festival’s operation” – including sponsors – and that secondly, “programmers will have exclusive authority in selecting films and inviting guests, and not even the organising committee chairman will be able to participate in this.”
Setting out his principles to uphold freedom of expression, Kim said that as organising committee chairman, he would do his best to ensure that festival director Kang Soo-youn could take on all significant authority towards preparing a successful festival.
Speaking on the stage with him, Kang said they had gone over different scenarios in the midst of uncertainty but came to the conclusion: “There is no way to preserve the festival without opening it. If we don’t have it this year, there is no guarantee it can be held again after that. We can’t make this a film festival without Korean film industry members participating – we can’t make it a film festival without nationality.”
Kim has his work cut out for him. Of the 23 active organising committee members, all but one are from Busan, and are seen to have vested interests in keeping the festival the way it is. But Kim said he is “optimistic” and plans to reduce the number of members and bring in a higher ratio of film industry professionals to the committee.
Kim also expressed regret over the “defamation and hardship” that was caused in the process and asked for the courts to take favorable action on ex-festival director Lee Yong-kwan and deputy director Jay Jeon, both of whom helped found the festival and have been indicted since what many have called a politically-motivated audit.
“The organising committee will also try to help them regain their reputations in whatever way possible,” Kim said.
Lee was not re-hired after his contract ran out earlier this year and deputy director and Asian Film Market head Jay Jeon has been temporarily removed from his position.
Regarding Jeon and the current secretary general, who was also indicted, Kang said, “With the premise that we are to hold the film festival this year, we had to follow internal regulations” in suspending their positions. She added the festival would wait to see what the courts ruled and had no plans to take on any new personnel, but to deal with their duties in their absence internally.
Speaking to Screendaily, BIFF executive programmer Kim Ji-seok denied press reports that he has taken over the deputy director position – or that there has been conflict between Kim and Kang, on the one side, with Lee and Jeon on the other, that has also divided the rest of the film industry.
“Jay Jeon was not fired. Because he has been indicted, his duties have been suspended for about six months until the court decision is made. I said very clearly that I have not been appointed deputy director and am only acting as a temporary proxy in approving work,” Kim Ji-seok told Screen.
“Perhaps he doesn’t want to accept the removal of his position. Anyone in that situation would find it unfair to have to just leave like this, but because of his affection for the festival, he was saying he’d leave,” he added, referring to a Facebook comment Jeon had posted lamenting the situation and then later apparently removed.
Kim Ji-seok also denied that there is a split in the festival that has divided the industry. Speaking to Screen, he said there was only a difference in opinion, expressed by Lee Yong-kwan, about when to revise the festival’s articles of association, but that Lee has since said that he would be satisfied so long as the articles are changed.