The 27th Busan International Film Festival opened Wednesday night on a long overdue note of optimism with the premiere of Scent of Wind by Iranian director Hadi Mohaghegh. Festival organizers have indicated that they view the 2022 festival as a full-scale comeback edition, following two hard years of pandemic restrictions and a sequence of prior political challenges.

“We believe that the seat occupancy rates have recovered to about 80 to 90 percent compared to 2019,” said Huh Moon-young, the festival’s director, on opening night.

The opening ceremony, which took place at the festival’s main venue, the Busan Cinema Center, was attended by Asian cinema luminaries and celebrities, including Hong Kong screen icon Tony Leung, Korean star Song Kang-ho, Korean-American actor Daniel Dae Kim, Thai actor-model Mario Maurer and Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda.

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Leung, who starred last year in Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and will next be seen in Felix Chong’s crime film Once Upon a Time in Hong Kong, was feted with the festival’s Asian Filmmaker of the Year award Wednesday night. “It’s really my great honor to receive this recognition at the Busan International Film Festival,” Leung said. “Thank you for giving me an opportunity to come to Busan again to meet my Korean fans in person.”

The red-carpet ceremony, which took place for the first time since the pandemic, was followed by the opening gala screening of Scent of Wind by Mohaghegh, who visited Busan in 2015 with his film Immortal and won the festival’s top New Currents Award.

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“I feel like I’m back home again,” the director said. “The Busan film festival helped the development of Iranian movies a lot. It’s very important.”

Busan launched in 1996 with the aim of introducing emerging Asian directors to the world and grew into the region’s premiere cinema event. The festival, which is wildly popular with the local public, has also been credited with nurturing Korea’s globally influential film industry, as well as the remarkably high rate of moviegoing among the country’s general population.

This year’s festival, showcasing 243 films from 71 countries, features the usual selection of up-and-coming Asia talent, as well as works by many influential Western directors, including Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, French director Alan Guiraudie’s Nobody’s Hero and Claire Denis’ Both Sides of the Blade. Tickets for most screenings were already sold out as the curtain opened on opening night.

Some of this year’s highlights include the screening of Riceboy Sleeps, directed by a Korean-Canadian actor-director Anthony Shim; Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, an animated film based on Murakami Haruki’s novel The Black Pharaoh, the Savage and the Princess by Michel Ocelot; and Vikram, one of India’s highest-grossing action films. The festival will also unveil Nakdong River, the earliest surviving film to portray the Korean War in 1952, which was recently restored by the Korean Film Archive. 

During the ten-day festival, Busan will also premier 15-minutes of video footage from Avatar: The Way of Water, a sequel to James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) which will be released worldwide in December.  

This year’s Busan festival also expanded the scope of cinema by adding more drama series by streaming platforms. The On Screen section, which invited streaming content to the big screens for the first time last year, has expanded its program and will feature nine drama series, including Lars Von Trier’s The Kingdom Exodus and Yonder by the veteran Korean director Lee Joon-ik.  

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Separately from the official screenings, the festival will launch “BIFF in the Neighborhood,” a satellite program where festival organizers set up screens in local communities throughout the city and present recent films followed by Q&As with the director and actors. 

On the market front, the festival’s flagship industry program, Asian Contents & Film Market (ACFM), will kick off on Saturday and run for four days, facilitating face-to-face meetings between film companies on the ground in Korea for the first time since the pandemic. The Asian Project Market (APM), Asian Cinema Fund and Platform BUSAN, which were temporarily suspended due to the pandemic, will also normalize operations this year. Meanwhile, the newly launched Busan Story Market will introduce promising Asian IP  to the global industry for potential screen adaptation.

Market forums will feature talks on the phenomenal success of Korean drama and film, with participants including Keo Lee, Netflix Korea’s director of content; screenwriter Chung Seokyung, who recently co-wrote Park Chan-wook’s acclaimed feature Decision to Leave; and U.S. companies like Double Hope Films and talent agency UTA.  

The festival will close on Oct. 14th with Japanese director Kei Ishikawa’s mystery drama A Man

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