Busan International Film Festival : In Four Easy Steps

The 16th Busan International Film Festival (부산국제영화제), BIFF, took place last week, and having been to last year’s event, I can say it has already improved!  Through a combination of careful planning, luck, and having friends in the right places, I managed to score tickets to 16 out of over 300 films.  The films ranged from a low budget Iranian film to the most viewed movie in Brazil.

Scene 1: the battle for tickets.

Getting tickets is no small feat.  This year, online purchases played a bigger part, which meant that if you weren’t ready at your computer at 9 a.m. the day tickets went on sale, you were at a disadvantage.  Many of the buzz movies sold out in minutes.  Another way to get tickets was to pre-purchase them at the banks.  This was the best way as long as you knew what to ask for, because some of the workers didn’t always know what was going on.  Movie-goers who didn’t get tickets online or at the bank could just wait in line.  This wasn’t as bad as it sounds, unless you think waking up at 6am and waiting in line for 2 hours is bad.  The appeal of a movie fest to many is the chance to see films they wouldn’t normally be exposed to; but to get exposure to good films, sometimes you have to work for it.  I underestimated this last year; this year, I learned and waited.  The trick is to stay occupied with a book, a bag, and hope for good tickets.

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Scene 2: The time constraints

A lesson to be learned is that you must be aware of travel times.  The films took place in four different areas of the city (SFUNZ in Haeundae해운대, Shinsegae신세계, Lotte롯데 Department Store, and the new BIFF center in Centum City).  Three of the locations are within walking distance of each other, but Haeundae is not so near. Along with four different theaters, most days have four movie times also, but sometimes longer movies spill over into the next time slot.  No big deal, just start the other film later, right?  Yes, unless it’s in another cinema, in another part of town.  One should plan so that there is ample time to travel between cinemas and, more importantly, time to digest what you have just seen. The last part is work.

Scene 3: the crowds

Any traveler that has been to South Korea will tell you it’s a bit different.  The older generations are often given more leeway which can sometimes be abused or misinterpreted.  The most valuable social lesson I have learned is to afford yourself time to go slow and take in the event.  If you are stretching yourself too thin, the meandering crowds, packed buses, and the masses, in general, may take their toll on you.  My personal advice is to, above all, remember that you are a guest in someone else’s country, and the norms of your country may not apply here, despite what you think of others’ behaviors.  The BIFF volunteers have always done their utmost to help, and they are generally very foreigner friendly.  Just remember to be patient because they are volunteers.

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Scene 4: The Event

BIFF is still a young festival, and there are still some kinks.  This year was bigger and smoother than last year, and next year, I think we can expect the same improvement.  The original goal of BIFF was to be the biggest international film festival in Asia, and it has succeeded, boasting over 300 films.  The selection process is more lenient than the bigger international film fests like Cannes, Toronto, or Berlin, but each year brings more attention and prestige.  Ten years from now, BIFF may be on the same level as its’ foreign counterparts. Seeing it in the early years has been an experience that I recommend to travelers of all ages and backgrounds. 

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