Busan International Film Festival director Lee Yong-kwan and honorary festival director Kim Dong-ho met with Screen at Hong Kong Filmart for an exclusive talk about Lee’s new solo directorship.

Lee and Kim had been co-festival directors from 2007 until Kim, the founding director, retired last year. Although the majority of festival-goers have been wondering about who would replace the well-known and charismatic icon of the Busan fest, BIFF’s organizing committee had actually already quietly endorsed Lee as the solo director in November of last year when they confirmed Kim’s retirement and named him honorary festival director.

“The thinking is that we had a co-festival directorship of two, and when Mr. Kim stepped down, we naturally reverted to one director so there wasn’t any particular need to announce it,” Lee explains.

“Mr. Kim had been expressing his desire to retire for several years, and we had tried to find a replacement for him, but as you know, he’s irreplaceable,” he says.

“So we started a collaborative system five years ago. I became co-festival director, Jay Jeon is a deputy director and Kim Ji-seok is senior programmer. Personally, I was hoping Mr Kim would stay on another year. I would have liked to have taken some time off to live abroad and work on my English, but there really wasn’t any time,” he adds. Lee has decided to take a sabbatical from his professorship at Chung-Ang University, which will leave him free to focus solely on the festival for up to two editions.

More changes are in store this year, with the Asian Film Market moving the Busan Exhibition & Convention Center (BEXCO) and the Busan Cinema Center finally to finish construction in time for this year’s Opening Ceremony and screenings.

“It will be a leap into the new era. The festival team is doing well and it puts me at ease to see them at work,” says Kim, who is travelling with Lee and introducing him around the fest circuit.

“You could say that if the previous 15 years were the era of Kim Dong-ho, the next era will be of the Cinema Center. We’ll need four or five years to establish a proper foundation for it,” adds Lee.

Other festival organizers have expressed interest in Busan’s dedicated festival venue, which will eventually bring all the functions of not only the festival, but also the market under one roof.

“It’s rare for a festival to get a dedicated center like this in such a short period of time. We’ve met with Rotterdam, Berlin and Cannes and even they are curious about our new festival center. They said they plan to visit and see it for themselves, too. It’s epochal. Almost everything will be housed there soon, and the important thing now is to get content that befits the venue,” said Lee. He and Kim agree the festival will need to focus more on being representative of Asia and not just Korea or Busan.

“We will be increasing our support to Asian films and Korean independent films, and widening our focus to other parts of the world – Africa and Latin America, too. Our fresh young programmers are fiercely active and it’s stimulating for all of us,” says Lee.

The “Big Roof” of the Center is going up later this month, and starting this year, the opening film will be screened against the wall of the Center’s indoor-outdoor area. This is expected to eliminate the problems posed by rainy weather as in the past on opening nights or during outdoor screenings.

“I remember the first time the outdoor screen went up, for Busan’s inaugural opening night. It was an emotional moment. When the opening ceremony takes place in the new festival venue, it will be a similar new start for the festival, and I have every confidence it will be a tremendous success,” adds Kim, with a very happy look on his face.