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Biggest independent Asia film festival ready for action despite turmoil


Organisers of the Busan International Film Festival say they are confident they can cast off the politics that has overshadowed the influential event as its 22nd edition kicks off on Thursday.


The annual festival, which has long championed independent Asian cinema, is determined to "preserve its identity" despite being embroiled in high drama of its own for the past three years, said founder Kim Dong-Ho.


Kim, 80, was brought back to help run BIFF in 2015 after previous festival boss Lee Yong-kwan was charged with fraud and removed from his post.


That scandal came after the festival decided in 2014 to stick with the screening of a contentious documentary despite pressure from Busan Mayor Suh Byung-Soo to withdraw it from the programme.


The film in question, "Diving Bell: The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol", was critical of the South Korean government's handling of the Sewol ferry disaster that year which claimed around 300 lives.


Government funding cuts followed and then boycotts by leading Korean cinema groups such as the Directors' Guild of Korea, which pointed a finger at political meddling.


"Although this year's festival is still facing unsolved problems, we are determined to encourage up-and-coming Asian directors, support new Asian films and further our role in the film industry," said Kim.


Industry insiders had questioned whether BIFF could repair the damage to its reputation -- a point raised by festival staff earlier this year when they demanded Kim and festival director Kang Soo-Yeon resign over lack of action on the various troubles.


The pair have since acquiesced to those demands and will hand over the reins at the end of this year's edition of the festival, which runs from October 12 to 21.


Young talent


Amid the turmoil, BIFF's programmers have still managed to line up around 300 films and 100 world premieres for this year's festival, which will open against a backdrop of unprecedented growth across Asian film markets.


While Hollywood has suffered a summer that saw box office receipts drop by some 16 percent, a series of domestic hits has driven the Chinese market up by 10 percent, while South Korea is on target for a record 2017.


BIFF has this year attracted international guests including two-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone, who will head the jury for the festival's main New Currents award for first- or second-time Asian directors.


Fellow Hollywood A-lister Darren Aronofsky will also make an appearance as he tours the festival circuit with his horror "Mother!" and Hong Kong action maestro John Woo will bring his latest thriller "Manhunt" to the Korean port city.


Other notables flying in from across the region include Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda and China's Jia Zhangke.


BIFF opens Thursday with the premiere of Korean director Shin Su-Won's revenge thriller "Glass Garden".


It will close with the historical drama "Love Education" from Taiwanese director Sylvia Chang –- the first time female directors have book-ended the festival.


Other highlights include the world premiere of Jeon Jae-Eun's "Butterfly Sleep" starring Japanese superstar Miho Nakayama, as well as a new award for rising Asian directors in memory of BIFF co-founder Kim Ji-Seok, who passed away while attending the Cannes festival in May.


Rising Korean filmmakers will be showcased in the 27-film Korean Cinema Today section while this year's New Currents features 10 films representing Asian nations, with much interest surrounding the Chinese comedy "One Night on the Wharf" by acclaimed artist-turned-filmmaker Han Dong.


There will be politics at play as always in the festival's Wide Angle documentary section with productions in competition including one that looks at the controversial THAAD missile defence deployment in South Korea -- the Park Baeil-directed "Soseongri".


"After some hard times we still believe that highlighting and focusing on young Korean and Asian talent, and discovering and supporting them, is what we do best and is the future for BIFF," said festival programmer Kim Young-Woo.