The Grand Spectacle

in 15th Pusan International Film Festival

by Uma da Cunha

This was my first experience of the Pusan International Film Festival. I had heard it was huge, not only in its sectional film program but also with the many panel discussions and market extensions related to filming. It certainly is impressive and daunting for a first-timer. The festival has a distinctive Asian feel to it thus giving it a unique status.              

In just 15 years, this festival has become the main source for cineastes to access, understand and analyze the cinema that emanates from various countries in Asia. It has also become a source for promoting and funding new talent in this part of the world.              

A large part of my time was taken up with Jury screenings, so I could not experience many aspects of the festival at first hand. But there was a lot that was rewarding in terms of observations and insights.                

The festival statistics that follow are staggering:            

Held from October 7th – 15th, 2010, PIFF 2010 screened a record number of 306 films from 67 countries, in 36 screens spread over 6 theatres.    

The films programmed presented a record number of 101 World premieres and 52 International Premieres.              

Besides its film program, the festival held key side events linked to marketing, sales and funding of Asian films, all of which are well regarded and attract film professionals in numbers from all over the world. They constitute the following:        

  • The Asian Film Market (this year attended by 51 Sales Offices from 108 companies of 26 countries. It held a total of 47 market screenings of 39  films, including 22 market premieres)              
  • The Asian Film Academy which registered 24 participants from 16 countries, were led by faculty members as eminent as Abbas Kiarostami (Iran), Moon Seug Wook (Korea), M Hyung-gu (Korea) and Ogigami Naoko (Japan).          
  • The coveted Asian Cinema Fund, which promotes emerging film talent from within Asia.            

These side events clearly demonstrate the universe of film and cinema that PIFF offers its delegates. When confronted with it in person, it forces the delegate to pinpoint his/her area of film specialization and interest and to focus on that alone.

What lit up the festival was the respect, regard and affection extended by those who attended, regardless of seniority or position, towards the longstanding festival head, Kim Dang Ho. Each day was a joyous expression of their loyalty to this man, who is now leaving the festival. Proof of his guidance was that there was no hint that his departure would in any way lessen or weaken the stature of the festival. He has given it the confidence and strength to excel and be self-reliant.            

Aspects of the Programming:                

As a writer on cinema and a programmer of Indian films, what has always interested me from afar is its’ fine-tuning when it comes to selecting the kind of films that has given it its individuality. This is particularly true when Pusan presents films from India. Every year it selects some six to eight films which concentrate on the art-house production. It also gives insights into India’s popular film culture which counters its more conspicuous big-budget, star-studded, song and dance spectacle films. Its PPP program has given grants to Indian films. This year it brought in the respected master from South India, Mani Ratnam, with his latest film Raavan, presenting it in its two versions, one in Tamil and the other in Hindi. Mani Ratnam was present with his two mega stars, the beauteous Aishwaria Rai and her co-star and husband in real life, Abhishek Bachchan. They were accompanied by another major south Indian actor, Vikram. This high profile foursome gave press meetings and talks that provided valuable insights into big-budget movie making in India.            

For the rest, the Pusan 2010 choice of Indian films was a fine collection of recent art house films. The award winning Murali Nair presented the world premiere of his latest film Virgin Goat, while he himself served on the New Currents jury. Other Indian films included Memories in March (Bengali) by first time director Sanjoy Nag.              

Other Indian feature films screened in Pusan this year were Shor (directed by Raj Nidimouru and Krishna DK), Subhadro Choudhury’s Clerk and Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan.              

In the shorts and documentary section, filmmaker Ashvin Kumar premiered his latest work, Inshallah Football, a film that pitted the international sport of football with the battles of daily life in a beleaguered Kashmir. The film is one of the many that Pusan’s PPP has helped financially to reach its completion. The second short screened was Angshuman Barkoty’s Dr., Nurse and Patient. The latter has been produced by the Kolkata’s Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute and I was delighted to learn that its Dean Mr Nilotpal Majumder was invited to participate in one of the festival’s panels.                

Films in the FIPRESCI Competition:              

The films in the FIPRESCI Competition selection were of a good standard. The jury found two films that were outstanding. They were The Journals of Musan directed by Jung-bum (Korea), which the jury finally named as the winner, followed by Bleak Night directed by Yoon, Sung-Hyun (Korea). Significantly, the same two films were awarded the top prize by the New Currents jury.          

Since FIPRESCI is permitted only one award, after a thorough debate on both films, the jury awarded the prize to The Journals of Musan.            

The Journals of Musan is an accomplished film on many levels, especially so for a first-time director. This is even more commendable considering that the director is an actor who has taken on the additional responsibility of acting the main role in addition to directing duties.                

The film very graphically conveys the socio-political scenario in present-day South Korea through the eyes and plight of its principal character – a misfit who is a North Korean defector and so an ostensibly condemned man trying to make a life for himself in the shadows of the city’s mainstream hustle and bustle. He is essentially a kind and decent soul made to live in conditions of cruelty and crime. Without a trace of sentimentality or partiality, the director invites the viewer to look at all its characters, each within their individual social compartments, each with their separate goals and needs.          

The protagonist’s only ally and friend is, symbolically, a white fluffy little dog. The surprise ending balances the man’s submitting to society’s need coinciding with the dog seemingly dead on the street – the ending is gripping and telling.

Edited by Steven Yates