May 7, 2008

An Interview with Mr. Kim Dong Ho

The Pusan International Film Festival is an enchanting window to the magnificent world of Asian cinema. In a short span of nine years, it has become one of the most important film festivals in Asia. Its soaring popularity can be judged from the fact that leading film festival directors as well as programmers from all over the world, make it a point to attend its numerous screenings in order to select the best Asian films for their own festivals.

The festival has attained worldwide popularity thanks to the indefatigable efforts of its founder director Mr. Kim Dong Ho who has been associated with this event ever since its inception in 1996. Mr. Kim is a true champion of Asian cinema. He believes that Asian cinema, especially young Asian filmmakers, must be promoted globally. He attends major international film festivals in order to showcase the best of world cinema for South Korean cinephiles.

Many Asian filmmakers have profited enormously from Mr. Kim Dong Ho's initiatives within the framework of the Pusan International Film Festival. During his tenure as director of Pusan International Film Festival, a project market with associated production funds called the Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP) was initiated. Its beneficiaries include prominent Asian filmmakers like Fruit Chan, Garin Nugroho, Nguyen Vo Minh, Shunji Iwai, Junji Sakamoto, Darejan Omirbayev, Aktan Abdykalikov etc.

Young Asian filmmakers are indebted to Mr. Kim as he has been instrumental in the establishment of the "Asian Film Academy". The setting up of this institution is one of Mr. Kim's gifts to Asian cinema.

A soft spoken gentleman, Mr. Kim Dong Ho spoke to Lalit Rao in New Delhi, India where he attended the 7th Osian Cinefan Asian Film Festival 2005.

Your festival, Pusan International Film Festival was launched in 1996. Under what circumstances was this festival created? What were the reasons for starting it?

In 1995 three professors in Pusan asked me to prepare and establish an international film festival in Pusan. Before starting Pusan International Film Festival, several seminars and meetings were organised as part of preparations to establish an international film festival in Pusan. I was also involved in the preparations of a new festival.

What was your role in Pusan International Film Festival? What were your functions? In what capacity were you working at that time?

As Pusan International Film Festival is a festival that has been established in the Asian region, we planned to focus on Asian films especially to discover promising new Asian films and directors. We wanted to introduce these filmmakers abroad. We would like to support film making in Asian countries. It is with this view in mind that we launched the Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP) from the third edition of the Pusan International Film Festival in 1998. It was a great success. The reason why PIFF has grown bigger and bigger during a short period of time is that we have a very appropriate strategy. We have received tremendous support for our programmes as well as our projects.

When you started Pusan International Film Festival in 1995, South Korean cinema was not getting too much success in South Korea as there were too many American films being shown. How did your festival fight the dominance of American cinema in South Korea?

There are two factors which helped us fight the dominance of American cinema in South Korea. Firstly, we had a screen quota system. According to this system the owner of a cinema has to screen South Korean films for a period of 146 days in a year. Thanks to this screen quota system South Korean films were able to achieve tremendous success at the box office, as it was mandatory for them to be shown for 146 days. Thus we can say that screen quota system contributed enormously to promote South Korean cinema. Secondly since the 1980s numerous young film directors who studied abroad as well as at various universities in South Korea began influencing South Korean cinema. They began making films, distributing films. The young generation of Korean filmmakers made films of diverse kinds, different genres. This helped us to tackle the control of American cinema in South Korea .

You spoke of the Pusan Promotion Plan. Is it meant only for South Korean films? Can Asian films benefit from it?

Usually we select 23 Asian projects including 2-3 South Korean film projects. So most of the films which profit from the Pusan Promotion Plan are Asian films.

The Circle Could you please give some examples of Asian films which have benefited from the Pusan Promotion Plan?

I can mention The Circle directed by Iranian cineaste Jafar Panahi. It was shown in 2000 during the 5th Pusan International Film Festival. This film won the best film award at the 2000 Venice Film Festival. Beijing Bicycle by Wang Xiaoshuai also received funds from the Pusan Promotion Plan. This film was awarded the Jury Grand Prix award as well as the New Talent award at the 2001 Berlin International Film Festival. This year, Three Times by Hou Hsiao Hsien was selected in the competition section of the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.

Your festival is one of the leading film festivals in South Korea. Apart from PIFF, there are other film festivals in South Korea like Jeonju International Film Festival and the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival. How different is your festival from these festivals?

In general, Pusan International Film Festival invites the best quality films from all over the world. Puchon is a fantastic film festival. This festival shows films belonging to genre of fantastic films. Jeonju Film Festival is an alternative film festival. It usually screens many digital as well as independent films. That is the difference between these festivals and Pusan.

Could you please tell us more about the film market at Pusan International Film Festival. How does this market conduct its business?

Three years ago we established a small Asian film market. Last year we invited around 30 film distribution companies from various Asian countries to participate in this market. We would like to enlarge the scale of Asian film market at this year's PIFF (October 6-14, 2005).

These days South Korean cinema is doing extremely well on an international level. South Korean directors like Hong Sang-soo, Park Chan-wook and Kim Ki-duk are achieving tremendous success at various international film festivals. How have these directors responded to Pusan International Film Festival? Has the festival shown their films? What is the response to South Korean cinema which is gaining international success at PIFF?

Most of Kim Ki-duk's films have been shown at Pusan as world premieres. He has made some of his films through the Pusan Promotion Plan. PIFF has discovered many promising South Korean directors, especially Lee Chang-dong [pictured below]. His film Peppermint Candy was the opening film at the 4th Pusan Film Festival in 1999.

Lee Chang-dong Every film festival strives to achieve success. You cannot achieve success without the support of the national government. What kind of help has PIFF received from the South Korean government, especially from the Ministry of Culture?

The new government has been helpful from the the beginning. [In 2003,] Lee Chang-dong was appointed as Minister of Culture. It is rather sad that he worked for only 1.5 years. He resigned regrettably so early. I guess he wanted to help not only the South Korean film industry but also other cultural fields in South Korea. Thus it is difficult to say what has been the government's contribution to the South Korean film industry.

At Pusan, international guests get a chance to watch the latest South Korean films. How does PIFF help the Korean audience to know more about the current trends in world cinema?

The main purpose of the Pusan Film Festival is to introduce South Korean films abroad. Our contribution in that regard is much more significant than that of other film festivals. Before the launch of PIFF only three South Korean films were shown at the Cannes Film Festival during its 50 year history. After the establishment of the Pusan Film Festival, the Cannes festival director and directors of various sections came to Pusan in order to select South Korean films for their festival. In 1998, four or five South Korean films were shown at Cannes. Last year there were six South Korean films at Cannes 2004.

It is true that PIFF helps to promote Asian cinema. There are however certain Asian countries like Iraq, Afghanistan etc. whose films have not yet achieved global recognition. What is Pusan Film Festival's course of action in order to reveal these relatively lesser known film industries?

From the outset our primary objective is to reveal new Asian directors. We wish to introduce their films abroad, especially in European countries. Every year we show about 100 Asian films at Pusan. Most European film festival directors as well as programmers attend Pusan in order to select Asian films for their festivals.

Kim Dong-ho As the director of PIFF, do you have complete freedom? Do you always get a chance to choose the films you wish to show, organize the programmes you want to showcase at your festival?

As the director of the Pusan Film Festival, I have enjoyed complete freedom ever since its creation. In 1996 when the first edition of PIFF was launched, there was still a censorship system in South Korea. We asked the government not to create any censorship problems for the films chosen for the festival. Since then, we haven't had censorship problems for the films which we have shown.

Do Asian films awarded at Pusan Film Festival get a commercial release in South Korea?

One of the biggest production and distribution companies in South Korea, CJ Entertainment, selects five non-commercial Asian films for commercial distribution. This company purchases rights to broadcast and distribute these films for South Korea's domestic market.

Do television and other cultural bodies in South Korea play any role in the production of films?

No, we don't have that kind of system in South Korea. One can find this system in France and also in Germany, where television helps out in the production of films.

Could you please tell us more about PIFF's audience. What kind of audience do you have at the festival? Are these viewers film buffs?

80% of our audience at Pusan is in their teens and in their twenties. In a way, we can say that we have a very young audience for our festival.

Please tell us more about the competition section at your festival. How many films do you select?

At Pusan there is only one competition section. This is meant for those new young Asian directors who are presenting their first or second films. For this competition section we select only 11 films. Sometimes we select up to 13 films, including one or two films from South Korea.

The first edition of PIFF was organised in 1996. Last year we saw the organization of its 9th edition. Do you think that over the years Pusan International Film Festival has grown bigger and bigger? Are there things still to be achieved by the festival?

I guess we are trying to improve more and more. I am not sure of the future, but we are trying our best.

PIFF 2005 What would be the highlights of the 10th edition of Pusan International Film Festival (6-14 October, 2005)?

We will be showing 30 masterpieces of Asian cinema. There will also be a retrospective of the late Lee Man-hee's films. We will also have a focus on British films.

British films -- Ken Loach, Mike Leigh?

Yeah, yeah!!

Thank you very much for having given us a chance to speak to you!

Thank you.

This interview originally published at

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