Busan film festival hit by South Korean filmmakers’ boycott over freedom of expression

Association representing nine top film bodies will ask members to stay away from event amid continuing fallout from city government’s 2014 order to halt screening of Sewol ferry disaster film

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 April, 2016, 10:21am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 April, 2016, 10:26am

South Korea’s best-known film festival could be left struggling to fill its 2016 programme, after a group representing many of the country’s most high-profile film-makers agreed to mount a boycott over municipal interference.

The Busan international film festival’s (BIFF) 21st edition is due to take place in the southern port city from 6 to 15 October, 2016. But an association of nine of the country’s top film bodies announced on Monday that it would ask its members to stay away, according to the Korea Times .

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The group accuses Busan metropolitan government chiefs of interfering with the festival’s programme for political reasons, after organisers were ordered to cancel a screening of a documentary about the Sewol ferry disaster in October 2014. Called The Truth Shall Not Sink with the Sewol, the film fiercely criticises failed rescue measures during the national tragedy, which led to the deaths of more than 300 people and the subsequent resignation of South Korean prime minister Jung Hong-won.

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“This is the first time in 10 years that those in the film industry [have] put their voices together for a cause since the opposition against the reduction of the screen quota for domestic films in 2006,” said the Korean Film Group’s Emergency Committee for Defending BIFF’s Independence in a statement, which followed a poll of members that found 90 per cent supported a boycott. “It is regrettable that such an extreme decision was made with the festival only six months away. But we film industry people will not participate in this year’s BIFF unless its independence and freedom of expression are guaranteed.”

Since the impasse over The Truth Shall Not Sink with the Sewol, festival organisers and the city government have been locked in a battle for control over the event. After ordering the dismissal of Busan chairman Lee Yong-kwan, the authority took out a court injunction against Lee’s subsequent attempt to load a powerful committee with supporters. The chairman had hoped to use a general meeting to declare the festival’s independence from government control, despite the metropolitan authority’s status as the event’s largest stockholder and main funding body.

Busan mayor Suh Byung-soo, reportedly the key figure opposed to the screening of The Truth Shall Not Sink with the Sewol, offered to step aside as the festival’s current head in February. However, he does not seem to have followed through, despite ongoing calls from filmmakers for him to resign. The Busan international film festival was founded in 1996 as the first major Korean event of its kind.