Bifan Director Shin Chul Talks Overhauling Korean Fantasy Festival | Features
Festival Director Shin Chul talks about the start of his second three-year term at the Bucheon (Bifan) International Fantastic Film Festival in South Korea and the challenges these events continue to face.
26e edition of the festival will take place from July 7 to 17 and will present 268 titles from 49 countries, of which 80 titles will be world premieres. The two previous editions of Bifan have taken place as hybrid events due to the pandemic.
Prior to joining Bifan in 2018, Shin was known as a producer of flagship Korean films such as The Ginkgo bed (1996), Lies (2000) and My sassy girl (2001).
What elements of the hybrid editions of the festival from the last two years do you plan to carry over this year and beyond?
We will continue to show films online on [streaming platform] wavve – 138 features and shorts. Film festivals around the world got a taste of the hybrid and it wasn’t bad. This has its risks but also its advantages so we will continue while keeping a balance. We decided it was appropriate to continue operating this way as long as we didn’t lose the spirit of a film festival because online couldn’t fully convey the energy generated by people gathered in front of a screen.
Tell us about your “Halloween in July” plans.
Bucheon is a unique place. There are no so-called tourist sites, so the city is trying hard and wants to organize many events for citizens to participate in after the pandemic has passed. We think that way, too. We imagined festivities that would best correspond to the characteristics of BIFAN. Sitges has a zombie parade, and it was suggested to do something like that, but it doesn’t suit Korea. So we decided to try a Bari folktale theme mixed with Asian fantasy – complete with parades, art displays and water gun fights.
[‘Princess Bari’ is a Korean folktale about the daughter of a king who was abandoned as a baby for not being a son but later travels to the underworld to secure life-giving water to save her dying parents.]
by Alex Garland Men marks a rare R-rated choice for the opening film. Why choose this feature when its R rating means it can’t be thrown outside?
There was a lot of debate about the film’s debut at Cannes but it’s a well-made film and it’s brave, which goes well with Bifan’s characteristics. Alex Garland is a director who deals with complex issues facing humanity through his films such as Ex-Machina, Annihilation and TV series Developers. Men is also in this vein. He is an audacious filmmaker dealing with major themes. We are ready to be chewed up by the local press. Getting chewed up is part of the Bucheon experience.
What is the most pressing issue for film festivals in Korea?
Korea has about 180 film festivals and [most of them are funded] by local governments. Because film festivals have been so helpful in promoting a city, they have proliferated a lot, but there are differing views on their effect and many local governments oppose them as just spending money. As the government has changed, there has been talk of closing some film festivals like Gangneung, as their mayor said a few weeks ago, and Pyeongchang, as their provincial governor said.
There is the political situation but also the changing environment of OTT and cinema and how a film festival can be sustainable. That’s what we focus on.
Is that why you have reviewed your program?
We have reviewed our program to change the framework of the audiences and maintain a balance. If we go to extremes on one side [like showing Men as opening film]so you also have to keep the balance by having a program section like Odd Family [which shows family-friendly films]. I consider it a section for the growing creators of the future.
In the end, what a film festival has to deal with are creators and guests first; second, the public; and third, the community. You have to consider the community. They support us and the creators.
The town hall reviewed the effects of holding Bifan for 25 years and provided 34.3 billion KW ($26.2 million) while the direct economic effects totaled 200 billion KW ($152.6 million ). This was based on motives that the Ministry of Culture spoke about, including the money spent by visitors on tickets as well as food and drink.
In the end, we positioned ourselves well in a niche market and as Asia’s largest fantasy film festival.