BUSAN - As the 11th Pusan International Film Festival moves into its final days, Korea's second largest city has turned on all its charm with sunny blue skies and unseasonally warm weather making this gathering of Asian film industry luminaries and movie buffs from around the world a party to remember.
Forget about that wannabe scene stealer Kim Jong-il and his North Korean nuclear nightmare: The past eight days have been all about celluloid celebration and making sure the PIFF remains a major fixture on the international movie festival calendar.
Even though this year's festival placed a greater emphasis on Asian films - more than 100 offerings by emerging and established filmmakers in Asia will have been showcased by the festival end in sections such as "A Window on Asian Cinema" and "New Currents" - there has still been more than enough international content to keep foreign film lovers happy.
And why not? With a whopping 245 films from 63 countries, including 64 world premieres, at 31 theaters across Busan on the schedule, the organizers have certainly made sure there is something for everyone's tastes.
Stephen Rigby, an accountant from the United Kingdom stopping by Korea enroute to New Zealand took time out from his travels to come to Busan and experience his first film festival in Asia.
"I attended a few festivals back in the U.K. but none as interesting as this", he said. "This has been such a unique experience ... the food, the people and the location here on the ocean is brilliant".
Citing U.K. director Ken Loach's "The Wind that Shakes the Barley" screened at Haeundae Beach's outdoor theater as his favorite film of the festival, Rigby also enjoyed Kim Dae-sung's "Traces of Love" for its bare bones approach to the issues of loss and healing set within the tragedy of the Sampoong Department Store collapse in 1995.
Carla Doucet, an English teacher from Victoria, Canada, is also attending her first PIFF and said that while it doesn't seem as much of a city-wide event as the Vancouver International Film Festival, she has still enjoyed herself and is now a confirmed Asian film fan.
"I saw the Korean movie 'The Foul King
' back at VIFF in 2000 and was one of about four people in the cinema", she said. "I loved that movie but there was no one to appreciate it with. It's been great to watch Korean films with knowledgeable audiences that are really into what's on the screen. It also helps that we haven't been rained out like back home", she laughed.
One of PIFF's biggest scheduling successes with foreign film lovers has been its "Contemporary French Auteurs" program which commemorates the 120th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and France. Showcasing films from that country's leading directors such as Jean-Luc Godard and Patrice Leconte, it is hoped the screenings will create greater interest in French cinema on these shores as part of a drive to boost Gallic film sales across Asia.
According to Variety.com, Asia accounted for 14 percent of French film exports last year, with Japan and Korea making up 80 and 4.7 percent of the business respectively.
Nathalie Bourdon, a French sales manager based in Japan, flew from Tokyo to attend this year's festival for no other reason than to see the Asian premiere of "Paris je t'aime", a collective works love story set in Paris, and "Indigenes" which recounts the experiences of North African soldiers who helped to liberate France in World War II.
"I came to Busan in 2005 for the last film festival here and had a very pleasant experience", Bourdon said. "I had no idea what Korea would be like at the time but was impressed and will now try and return every year if possible. 'Paris je t'aime, 'Indigenes' and the French film program were just a convenient excuse to have a short vacation and enjoy this wonderful city at a special time of the year when the weather is so good. What could be better? Film, sun and the blue seas - parfait!"
PIFF runs through tomorrow, when it will close with the international premiere of "Crazy Stone", a fast-paced comedy by Chinese director Ning Hao.
By John Scott Marchant