I’m sad to say that the 18th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) wrapped last Saturday. BIFF is Asia’s largest film festival and one of my favourite events of the year, this year running from Oct 3-12. This year’s festival was a success, showcasing 299 films from 70 countries and attended by more than 215,000 film-goers and 2,000 members of the press. I had the chance to attend this year’s events and got to see a few celebrities too, including Quentin Tarantino, who made a surprise visit. Read on for my round-up of nine days of cinema and all things BIFF!
The festivities kicked off the night before the first screenings with simultaneous ‘BIFF Eve’ ceremonies held at the Haeundae BIFF Village and at BIFF Square in Nampodong. A handful of Korean celebrities and some local dignitaries like Busan’s mayor Hur Nam-sik walked the red carpet. Following speeches, the events gave way to music, lightshows and fireworks set against the backdrops of Haeundae, Busan’s most famous beach, and Nampodong’s bustling, market-filled epicenter.
The following night, the film festival itself was underway, opening with the Bhutanese film, Vara: A Blessing at the outdoor theatre of the beautiful Busan Cinema Center. This was the first time that a foreign film opened the festival. I wasn’t able to snag a ticket though since they sold out in just 55 seconds! Fortunately I was able to enjoy the festival’s increased roster of foreign films, a few of which I profiled in my blog, “5 Foreign Films Picks for BIFF 2013.”
From there, it was nine whirlwind days of films, events, and guest visits. I saw 20 films over that period, enjoying many of the festival’s newly added features, including Open Cinema, which screened films under the glowing lights of the Cinema Center. They also added more events for film fans to get closer to their favourite stars, including the free-flowing Open Talks and the smaller, interview-style Talk-to-Talk events.
Along with hundreds of other fans, I was thrilled when Quentin Tarantino made a surprise appearance at the festival, joining Korean director Bong Joon Ho (봉준호, The Host) to give a last-minute joint talk. The American genre filmmaker flew into town “on a whim” from an awards ceremony in Macau after learning that Bong was in Busan for the film festival, stating that he had always wanted to meet the director in person. The two proved to be mutual admirers of one another’s work. Having both come off of their most ambitious and highest-grossing projects to date, Tarantino with Django Unchained and Bong with Snowpiercer, the pair gave an engaging and informative talk. The whole affair was mediated by Vanity Fair’s movie critic Scott Foundas who penned an overall glowing review of the festival.
Quentin Tarantino and Bong Joon Ho weren’t the only stars I got to see. Viewers were also treated to guest visits at select films. Interviewed by film critics, professors and other professionals, directors, actors and movie-makers had the chance to talk about their films to receptive audiences who in turn were able to ask questions. Each event was translated in English and was an exciting opportunity to bring filmmakers and fans together. I got to enjoy guest visits at several films, including seeing director Lee Chang-dong (이창동) speak about master filmmaker Im Kwon-taek’s (임권택) body of work. This year, prolific director Im and his incredible were honored as subject of the Korean Cinema Retrospective with nine of his movies screening during the festival and others to continue in the weeks following. Now working on his 102nd film, the 77-year-old Im also took part in a hand-printing ceremony (along with 3 other guests) to commemorate his achievements. The print will be cast as a plaque and displayed at BIFF Square next year.
This year’s highlights for me included seeing Tarantino and Bong’s Open Talk, attending back-to-back horror films in the wee hours of the morning at Midnight Madness, and the fact that I was able to see more Korean films than ever thanks to this year’s comprehensive subtitling programme. I also liked spotting stars mulling around, including director Kim Ki-duk (김기덕) who apparently moves too quickly to snap photos and seeing the guest visits, seeing celebrities like Ha Jung-woo (하정우) speak at the Open Cinema screening for The Terror Live.
BIFF wrapped up with the closing ceremony and a screening of the Korean film, The Dinner. Again, tickets sold out too quickly for me to grab one up, so I settled for taking some pictures and indulging in all-you-can-drink beer for 2,000 won on the BIFF Terrace under the dancing lights of Busan’s gorgeous cinematheque and rehashing all my favourite films with friends. Not a bad compromise and a great ending to a fantastic time at the film festival.
Did you attend this year’s Busan International Film Festival? Any favourite films or events? You can tell me in the comments. Check out my other related BIFF articles, “Bring on BIFF!” and “5 Foreign Film Picks for BIFF 2013” if you’d like more information.