Busan Film Festival films screened at Dartmouth

By Caela Murphy | 2/24/13 11:09am

Not many typical days at the movies include glimpses of Bangladeshi political satires or South Korean mobster flicks, but the latest Best in Show initiative at the Hopkins Center featured these exciting themes. This weekend, students were given a taste of some of the best work that Southeast Asian cinema has to offer when the Hop screens five films from South Korea’s Busan International Film Festival.

In honor of the Hop’s 50th anniversary, the program allows audiences in Hanover to view films almost immediately after the festival showing. Over the year, works from seven film festivals from around the world will be brought to Dartmouth.

“The idea is to give a sampling of what the worlds film festivals are like, how the films are presented and what kinds of feelings are discovered or rediscovered at a film festival,” Hop film director Bill Pence said.

This past weekend, the focus was on Busan, Asia’s largest film festival, which takes place every fall on a small island off the coast of Busan, South Korea. Though only in its 17th year, the festival has grown to become influential in the film world.

Chris Robinson ’86, who works for the Telluride Film Festival and traveled to South Korea this fall to select films from Busan to screen at Dartmouth noted the festival’s commitment to supporting Asian cinema.

Busan was an apt choice for “Best in Show” because of the global emergence of Korean cinema, Robinson said.

“Korean film and Korean pop culture are really starting to be discovered worldwide these days,” Robinson said. “There is a lot of very interesting work coming out of this part of Asia right now.”

In South Korea, Robinson collaborated with Cho Young-Jung, one of the festival’s planners, to choose the five films. Robinson described the selection process as difficult, yet exciting.

“One thing that Cho and I were looking at was what films would best represent the Busan Film Festival,” Robinson said. “It gave us an opportunity to talk about work that Busan does for Southeast Asian cinema and for Korean cinema.”

The following afternoon featured “Jisuel” (2012), a politically charged drama based on the true story of the Jeju uprising on the Southern Korean island in 1948 that resulted in the massacre of thousands of civilians by the dictatorship’s troops. “Jisuel” was awarded the grand jury drama prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Audiences also attended “Television” (2012), the only film of the five that was produced in Bangladesh rather than South Korea. Robinson said he is particularly excited to show the film, a satire in which the Islamic fundamentalist beliefs of a small village are put to the test when its schoolteacher purchases a prohibited television set.

“You don’t come across comedies about Islamic fundamentalism from Bangladesh very often,” Robinson said.

“Pieta” (2012), the first Korean film to win a Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival, was shown later that evening. The dark melodrama follows an enforcer for a loan shark who suddenly encounters a woman who claims to be his mother.

The final film, “Red Scarf” (1964), is a restoration of one of the earliest Korean films to receive international acclaim. It is an action-packed patriotic saga about the lives of several South Korean fighter pilots during the Korean War. The Saturday showing most likely was the first screening of the film in the United States in the past 30 to 40 years, Robinson said.

Cho arrived on campus last week to introduce the films.

“It’s always interesting see how directors and programmers approach running a film festival,” Stockton said. “I’m really excited to find out what the representative from Busan has to say.”

Stockton said there is often a stigma against foreign films, because people are less willing to read subtitles or are unsure of what to expect. He hopes the Best in Show will help to change these perceptions.

“I hope that people who go this weekend discover an appreciation for foreign cinema like I have,” Stockton said. “There are a lot more great films out there than those made in the U.S.”

The films were screened in Loew Auditorium at the Black Family Visual Arts Center this weekend.

Caela Murphy