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Old guard, politicians floated as BIFF leaders

No official candidates yet considered, Busan International Film Festival says

With the conclusion of Busan International Film Festival, speculation now abounds as to who will take over the leadership roles at Asia’s biggest film festival, with politicians, BIFF founding partners and actors being floated.

BIFF spokesperson Kim Jung-yun told The Korea Herald on Monday that the festival itself had not yet selected any official candidates.

Festival cofounder Kim Dong-ho and actress Kang Soo-youn stepped down as BIFF chairman and executive director, respectively, on Oct. 22 after having announced in September they would leave after this year’s event, which took place in Busan from Oct. 12-21.

“The only thing that we have agreed upon for certain as of now is that a meeting of BIFF board of directors will take place as soon as possible, in the coming months, definitely within the year,” Kim said.

At the meeting, BIFF directors will decide on how to elect its next leaders and the timeline, and possibly name candidates, Kim said.

Busan International Film Festival Chairman Kim Dong-ho (left) and Executive Director Kang Soo-youn walk on the red carpet at the festival’s closing ceremony on Oct. 21 at the Busan Cinema Center. (Yonhap)
Busan International Film Festival Chairman Kim Dong-ho (left) and Executive Director Kang Soo-youn walk on the red carpet at the festival’s closing ceremony on Oct. 21 at the Busan Cinema Center. (Yonhap)

Several potential leaders have circulated among film industry circles, who voice the need for a figure with knowledge of films and communication skills.

Former Busan Mayor Moon Jung-soo has been mentioned frequently, according to reports. Moon, who was elected Busan’s mayor in 1995, is credited with having played a pivotal role in the founding of BIFF in 1996.

Moon supporters say a veteran BIFF insider needs to take the reins, especially with the absence of symbolic BIFF figures such as longtime programmer Kim Ji-seok, who died in May, and Chairman Kim Dong-ho, who cofounded the festival.

Some BIFF staff are calling for the return of Lee Yong-kwan, who served as executive director from 2010 to 2016. Lee, who helmed the festival when it screened the controversial documentary “The Truth Shall Not Sink with Sewol” in 2014 against the government’s wishes, was found guilty of embezzlement and was ordered by court to pay a 5 million won fine in July.

Many suspect that the investigation into Lee was opened as part of the government’s retaliation against the festival screening “The Truth Shall Not Sink with Sewol,” according to a former BIFF staff member who requested anonymity.

In August, BIFF employees issued a statement calling for Lee’s return.

Lee, meanwhile, has stated he will not return to BIFF, according to reports.

Oh Seok-geun, a film director and former head of the Busan Film Council, is also considered a contender, deemed capable of bridging the film scenes in Seoul and Busan, Korea’s second-largest city.

Veteran actor Ahn Sung-ki’s name has also emerged. The actor was frequently mentioned as a potential candidate in 2015, when Kang Soo-youn became BIFF’s executive director.

Ahn has been chairman of the Shin Young-kyun Arts and Culture Foundation since 2010.

The latest edition of BIFF has been described as successfully overcoming its political struggles of the past few years. Screening 300 films from 76 countries, the festival sold some 193,000 tickets, up 17 percent from 2016.

President Moon Jae-in visited the festival on Oct. 15 and watched a screening of “Missing,” a film about motherhood and female kinship directed by Lee Eon-hie.

Moon promised support for the festival without interference during his visit.

“Behind BIFF’s previous growth was the Busan Metropolitan Government’s active support for the festival, without interfering in it and allowing cineastes to organize it independently and freely,” he said at Centum City in Busan on Oct. 15. “But the festival was blacklisted after screening ‘The Truth Shall Not Sink with the Sewol’ and its funding was halved.”

“This was a year we were able to confirm the revival and growth of the festival,” executive director Kang said at the closing ceremony on Oct. 21.

By Rumy Doo (

Korea Herald daum