Busan film fest still not out of the storm

  • Gautaman Bhaskaran, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Aug 02, 2016 14:32 IST
A controversial documentary, The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol, is at the heart of all the trouble.

The Busan International Film Festival, which is to run from October 6 to 15, is still not out of the storm that it ran into a couple of years ago. The South Korean movie industry is not willing to lift its boycott of the festival, which -- despite being a new entrant in the field, having held its first edition in 1996 -- has become Asia’s premiere event, miles and miles ahead of even the almost ancient International Film Festival of India (IFFI), which opened in 1956.

The Korean Film Groups’ Emergency Committee for Defending Busan International Film Festival’s Independence -- a union of nine major movie industry organisations in the country -- announced on August 1 that it would not lift the ban.

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A bone of contention has been the reluctance of the Busan Mayor, Suh Byung-soo, to apologise for creating a sticky situation in 2014, when he tried to block the screening of a controversial documentary, The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol, helmed by Lee Sang-ho and Ahn Hae-ryong.

A Variety review during the 2014 festival had this to say: “Emerging barely six months after the South Korean ferry disaster that claimed the lives of more than 300 passengers in April, this raw, ragged, controversy-stirring item never pretends to take a comprehensive view of its complex subject, instead using a narrow account of one man’s stonewalled rescue efforts to pry open a small, infuriating window on the staggering levels of government incompetence and media collusion at work”.

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Despite a strong attempt by Korean officials to stop the screening of the documentary, the then festival director, Lee Yong-Kwan, refused to buckle under political pressure. The film was screened.

Lee was dismissed soon after, and another demand of the Committee is that his “honour must be restored”.

Watch the trailer of The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol here:

Lee is still under a cloud after he was charged with misappropriation of funds. Many say that this is a politically motivated accusation.

Such incidents are nothing new in India, given to banning especially documentaries that have been critical of the administration.

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Even a celebrated auteur like Satyajit Ray had to face Government flak when his Sikkim made in 1971 -- the only documentary to his credit -- was proscribed. Made four years before Sikkim became part of India, the work traces the state’s concern about its sovereignty. It was only in 2010, long after Ray was gone, that Sikkim got screening rights. There are only two copies of this now -- with the British Film Institute and in the US.

Rakesh Sharma’s 2003 The Final Solution -- on the 2002 Gujarat riots -- was not allowed to be shown for a while, till in 2004 the ban was lifted.

These are merely two of the innumerable works that made the administration uneasy. But of course, better sense prevailed in the end.

The Busan festival now stands at the perilous crossroads of doom and shine. No festival can really succeed without the participation of the cinema industry. Even one like Cannes woos not just the French movie fraternity but also Hollywood.

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