In a few hours, the 19th edition of the Busan International Film Festival will begin in South Korea. This film festival is one of the 20 biggest festivals in the world and is often called the Cannes Film Festival of Asia. Last year, I had the honour of holding the world premiere of my first feature film CLYDECYNIC at the Busan IFF (more about that HERE) and it was the most incredible experience I have ever had at a festival. If you are planning on attending, here are a few tips that can help you have a smooth experience and agreeable experience:
1. LEARN ABOUT LOCAL ETIQUETTE
Rules of etiquette and polite behaviours vary from place to place and if there is somewhere in the world where it occupies a central role, it's Asia. Small things can make a big difference, so keep these things in mind: When introducing yourself, you offer your business card by holding it with both hands and bowing (shaking hands is a occidental custom) / Two things are not well seen in public: loosing your temper and physical contact; therefore if you must argue and hug, do it in a close room (I hugged our filmmakers relation on our last day to say thank you and I still feel bad about it) / In Busan few people speak English so learning a few words will take you a long way and make you more accessible. We learned "hello", "thank you" and "I would like to go (there)" and everyone seemed to be really appreciative of us taking an interest in their culture.
There are a lot of little specificities (it's impolite to point for example) so make sure to do your research before attending. This is a business opportunity and you will be meeting a lot of new people, you want to make a good impression!
2. MAKE CABS YOUR OFFICIAL TRANSPORTATION
If you are selected at the festival, an official car will be transporting you to all the "official" events on your schedule (screenings of your film, fan greeting events, opening night and out of site interviews). But you should know the festival is not as geographically central as others (Cannes for example holds all of its professional activities in a one mile radius). The guest hotels are located by Haeundae beach, by the sea and Centum City, where the festival takes place, is about 10 miles away. But here is the good new: cabs are very inexpensive in Busan! It will cost you about 6$ to make it to Centum City (a ride you can share with other filmmakers) and a 40 minutes ride to Jagalchi Market is only about 20$. As the train signs are not always in English, this makes your life much easier. You should however know most cab drivers don't speak English so we would ask the hotel front desk to write our destination on the back of their card, so we had both of our destinations in Korean and it made our exploring of the city smoother.
The festival also offers a fixed schedule shuttle to take you from the hotels to Centum City and to some of the parties. We made a few filmmaker friends on the shuttle on our way to the French Party that we are still in touch with today, so it's worth checking it our as well!
3. MAYBE YOU DIDN'T KNOW IT, BUT IN KOREA YOU HAVE FANS
Busan IFF is a huge festival in Asia and there are huge asian stars (though foreign to me) that take part of the event and make the fans screen (like WHOA!). However, you will fast discover that there is a strong respect of filmmaking and filmmakers in Busan and that you have fans as well! When our lead actor Alex Weiner and I attended the opening ceremony red carpet, we couldn't believe all the fans wanting to touch us and to take photos, even though this is our very first feature film. The local fans also love Q&A (and ask the smartest questions ever) and will wait at the back exit of the theatre for your autograph and picture. The festival also hosts fan greeting events and although I was nervous no one would show up, the event was packed and we got chased down the street for autographs afterwards. We make films for our public, so make the time to meet with your audience, especially when it's THIS enthusiastic.
Didn't know you had such a fan base? Take a moment to enjoy it! Asia is currently the biggest film market in the world and having such a gracious audience is a blessing. Even when we were on tourist outings (notably at Jagalchi Market and Haeding Yonggunsa Temple) we got people coming up to us to let us know how much the enjoyed our film. Embrace that loving public! This is the kind of things that don't happen where I live (and chances are where you live neither) so enjoy every moment and learn to be graceful.
4. BUILD YOUR PRESS KIT
One of the great tools that the Busan IFF makes available to professionals of the industry is a booklet of all the members of the press that are on site (complete with which hotel they stay at). Use it! Not all festival offer such a fantastic tool. We had a press "dream" that we were able to make come true (our first critic in The Hollywood Reporter!!) thanks to that useful info offered by the festival. An article in your local paper is cool, but an international article weights even more in your press kit (which is imperative to build for your film if you hope to be distributed). A few weeks before the festival started I also contacted the Busan IFF press relation service to make sure they had the link to our trailer, JPEG of the posters and the information about our film, the director and our lead actor that was accompanying us. We did a lot of press interviews on site at Cinema Centum but also had the privilege of a radio interview for Busan's English Broadcast.
To help get media attention: make sure you have a press release about attending the festival and that you provide them with at least a trailer, if not a screener. Because we did not hire a publicist for our premiere, I built a website with bios, Q&A and production notes to make the press process simpler. Although it's not the only way to go, it has worked well for us in the past year and has made life easier for our small production company. Also make sure to recuperate sound bites and printed interviews once back home as to start your press kit on the right foot!
5. TAKE IT ALL IN
This is the same advice that I gave in my article about the Cannes Film Festival, but it's just SO true! Film festivals are so busy, it can pass by in a flash. And us filmmakers can be full of angst and insecurities, but we must learn to enjoy the fruits of our labor. I mean: you are in Korea! And this is Busan, one of the most beautiful cities in the world! And you are at one of the world's biggest festival! Take time to be proud of yourself and to enjoy the experience. Smile at the fans, visit the gorgeous temples, go eat raw sea food at Jagalchi (we had so much fun at the market) or enjoy a few hours at the beach! These days are the ones you'll remember forever, and you definitely deserve it! Then go home and start making another film ;)
The biggest shopping mall in all of Asia is also located in Busan and right next to Centum City, make sure to check it out! The food court alone is worth the visit.
I hope this helps you weather you are attending the festival or simply traveling to this amazing city! I have dreamt of Busan every single day since last going, that's how magical it is! Virginie XO
PS: Extra tip for vegetarian: the local dish is raw sea food, particularly squid so as a vegetarian, I won't lie, Korea has been my most challenging trip thus far. For vegetarians I recommend korean barbecue houses, where there is meat of course but also veggies you can grill (cabbage, onions, peppers) as well as sea weeds, kimchi, tofu and soups. I also stocked up on fruits and local pastries at the corner store (with the jet lag I was mostly hungry during the night). We also ate lots of sweets from the Haeundae outdoor market. And if you are really not into it, there are a few american chains near Haeundae beach and at the mall (Friday's, Starbuck, etc...). Either way, you must also try Soju, the local alcoholic beverage, it's SO good!