Busan Film Festival Leadership in Turmoil as Chairman Signals Second Board-Level Resignation

The Busan International Film Festival, Asia’s biggest annual film event, may be headed for fresh turmoil following the announcement by festival chairman Lee Yong-kwan that he plans to resign.

On Friday, the festival’s director Huh Moonyung announced his plan to resign and exit by the end of the month.

The two high-level resignations follow the announcement a week ago that the festival would split the director’s job and appoint Cho Jongkook to the newly created position of managing director.

“Festival director Huh Moonyung and chairperson Lee Yong-kwan have both announced their resignation, but neither have been processed yet,” a festival spokesperson confirmed to Variety.

The festival held an offline press conference on Monday, which the spokesperson said was being held in order to counter “speculative articles.” However, Lee used the platform to announce his resignation instead.

The next edition of the festival is due to be held in less than five months from now, Oct. 4-13, 2023.

“Lee announced that he will be resigning to take full responsibility of the current situation. The exact timing for his resignation has not been decided, as he plans to resolve the current situation first,” the festival spokesperson said.

Lee is understood to be close friends with Cho, a veteran with previous roles at the Busan Film Commission and at the Korean Film Council. The Korea Herald newspaper quoted Lee as saying, “We see Huh’s return to the committee as the only solution to mend this situation.” It reported him as offering to meet with Huh by the end of the month.

On Monday, the Korean Film Producers’ Association issued a statement in support of Huh. “Huh, who has led the BIFF since 2021, is someone who has maintained a good reputation within the film industry and who many believe is the person for the job of headlining the BIFF. The way forward for the BIFF is to reverse the co-director system and make an environment for Huh to lead the festival,” the statement read.  

Film festivals in Korea are highly political, with the issue of creative freedom and resistance to regulatory oversight at the root of many skirmishes. Each of the biggest three festivals – Busan, Jeonju and the BiFan fantasy festival – has previously experienced poisonous factional infighting.

The Busan festival suffered years of repercussions after the programmers’ decision to go ahead with 2014 screenings of campaigning documentary “The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol” in defiance of the wishes of the city mayor, who was allied with the conservative national government. (The country’s president, Park Geun-hye, with whom the mayor was allied, was subsequently jailed for corruption and interference in the film industry.) The dispute sprawled over several years and led to funding cuts, an industry boycott, prosecutions and the injection of temporary management.

Some commentators have framed the Busan festival’s latest management upheaval in a similar vein. While Cho’s stated mission is to oversee planning and budgeting, the co-leadership role is viewed in some quarters as a crimp on the festival selectors’ artistic choices. Huh has been publicly silent on the reasons for his announced resignation.

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