Is Pusan becoming the Sundance Film Festival of Asia' South Korea's leading film event certainly takes pride in showcasing independent discoveries from the region.
The Hong Kong International Film Festival and Filmart in April have the Chinese-language market covered, and next month's Tokyo International Film Festival and Tiffcom, although growing in clout, are firmly rooted in the local Japanese market.
In turn, this month's Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) (October 2-10) is positioning itself as the global launch pad for 85 world premieres.
The festival will open with the world premiere of award-winning Kazakhstani film-maker Rustem Abdrashev's The Gift To Stalin, which tells the story of a Jewish boy living under Stalin's rule.
'Almost all the films made in central Asia seem to be gems,' says executive programmer Kim Ji-seok. 'They have a film-making mentality and tradition that is completely devoid of commercialism but is marked by artistry.'
Kim also points to Indonesia as a territory to watch. 'Indonesia has a growing industry with local films taking about 50% of market share, which is rare. Comedies, horror films and melodramas are booming even amid difficult distribution conditions,' he says.
Films to note from Indonesia include Ravi Bharwani's former PPP project Jermal - which Kim says might be 'the best Indonesian film of the year' - making its world premiere; Andibachtiar Yusuf Siswo's The Conductors which is screening in the Wide Angle documentary competition, and Blind Pig Who Wants To Fly, by Asian Film Academy (AFA) alumnus Edwin, debuting in the New Currents competition.
'The Philippines has many independent film-makers who are doing interesting work with top-class actors,' adds Kim. 'And China is so huge that surprising film-makers are popping out all the time. Look for Zhao Ye's Jalainur, Tian Gao and Joshua Tong's Twilight Dancing and Chi Zhang's The Shaft in the Piff selection.'
Like Sundance, Pusan is able to nurture filmmakers through an array of year-round initiatives. 'We cultivate new projects with the Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP) and Asian Cinema Fund (ACF), and young film-makers with the Asian Film Academy,' says festival co-director Kim Dong-ho, pointing to the Superheroes in Asia and Han Hyung-mo retrospectives. He adds: 'We also carry out the role of archive with the Busan Cinematheque.'
Films which won support from PIFF's inaugural Asian Cinema Fund (ACF) in 2007 include Brillante Mendoza's Serbis which went on to screen in Competition at Cannes and is at Piff this year, and Aditya Assarat's Wonderful Town which won the New Currents Award last year, and later played Berlin, Rotterdam, Hong Kong and Deauville.
This year, the eight ACF films in official selection include Roh Gyeong-tae's South Korean drama Land Of Scarecrows about a transgender Korean woman, Rajesh Shera's Indian post-tsunami drama Ocean Of An Old Man in New Currents, and Kazuhiro Soda's Mental in Wide Angle.
Also of note are 15 world premieres of local films in the Korean and New Currents sections, with five by female film-makers, including Park Chan-wook protege Lee Kyung-mi, who will be at the festival with Crush And Blush.
The World Cinema section also features a number of premieres, including Peter Greenaway's Rembrandt's J'Accuse and Raul Ruiz's Nucingen House. Gala Presentations will include Wong Kar Wai's Ashes Of Time Redux and world premieres of Zhang Yuan's Dada's Dance and Sohn Soopum's Make Yourself At Home starring Song Hye-gyo.
Last year's edition was criticised for organisational problems, but the directors are determined these will not happen again. 'This year, we're taking precautions to make sure the organisation befits that of a mature and accomplished film festival,' says Kim Dong-ho. 'Our guests should be able to put their minds at ease on that matter.'