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Film fest in COVID-19 times: BIFF wraps up with hope

The 25th Busan International Film Festival wrapped up its 10-day run Friday with an online press conference.

The acclaimed film fest kicked off Oct. 21 with “Septet: The Story of Hong Kong,” an omnibus work by seven renowned Hong Kong directors, at the Busan Cinema Center in the southern coastal city of Busan. It was a hybrid event, going both online and offline due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 


“During the festival, 192 films from 68 countries were screened, gathering a total of 18,321 audience members both online and offline,” festival director Jeon Yang-joon, also known as Jay Jeon, said at the online press conference Friday.

“The numbers could seem to be significantly less, compared to the average visitor of 180,000 from the past 24 editions of the BIFF. However, we are not ashamed of the number as the 2020 BIFF was a socially distanced event held in a contactless era of COVID-19,” Jeon said.

The film fest made 25 percent of all seats in the theater available for the screenings, amounting to 19,909 seats for all screenings combined. The ticket sales rate was 92 percent, meaning that some 18,000 seats were sold.

Apart from the screenings, other BIFF programs were held online, attracting a total of 30,201 participants. These included the Asia Contents & Film Market, the Asia Project Market, the BIFF Forum and a masterclass.

“It was a great achievement to connect the Busan Cinema Center with a cinema in Vietnam online. Also, we were able to have American filmmaker Frederick Wiseman -- a master of documentaries -- online,” he said.

“Guest Visit” events -- where directors and actors met with the audience -- were held both online and offline. Of the event’s 135 Guest Visits, 90 were online.

“We fully took preventive measures against the virus. The measures could have been seen as too much. But without too much prevention, a film festival cannot be held,” BIFF programmer Nam Dong-cheol said.

The New Currents Award, the top award in the main competition category, went to “A Balance” by Japanese director Yujiro Harumoto and “Three” by Korean-Kazakhstan auteur Pak Ruslan.

The film fest ended with the screening of the Japanese animated film “Josee, the Tiger and the Fish,” directed by Tamaru Kotaro.

“This year’s festival was truly a ‘film festival of the audiences.’ We thank the world-class audiences who looked after the safety of everyone themselves,” festival chairman Lee Yong-kwan said.

Next year’s BIFF will take place Oct. 6-15 in Busan.

By Im Eun-byel (