HONG KONG–A Bhutanese film directed by a monk opens Asia’s largest cinema festival in South Korea on Thursday, a selection organizers say celebrates the diversity of talent in a region where box office takings are overshadowing Hollywood. “Vara: A Blessing” directed by Khyentse Norbu — who will miss the festival because he is taking part in a silent mountain retreat — is the first of 301 movies to be screened at the 18th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF). “When we received word that ‘Vara’ had been selected as the opening film, both Khyentse Norbu and I were incredulous,” producer Nanette Nelms told AFP, praising the festival for its “curatorial courage.” The story of a woman’s fight against daily adversity will be among 95 world premieres in a program that includes works from Central Asia as well as a World Cinema section drawing together 50 productions.
With films from 70 countries screening over 10 days, an impressive lineup of both Asian and international filmmakers will be in attendance, led by Academy Award-nominated actor Ken Watanabe who stars in the Japanese remake of “Unforgiven,” Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Academy Award winner. The presence of a number of internationally funded, Asian-produced films in Busan highlights the erosion of cinema’s traditional geographical boundaries as filmmakers look beyond single markets. Box office takings in Asia are currently growing faster than those of North America. The U.S.-based Motion Picture Association recently reported that box office receipts from the Asia-Pacific region grew by 15 percent to US$10.4 billion in 2012, compared to 6-percent growth in North America to US$10.8 billion over the same period. Five of the world’s top 10 box office markets are now in the Asia-Pacific region, led by China where cinema takings for the first half of this year hit US$1.8 billion, up 36 percent year-on-year. Industry insiders predict that market alone will surpass North America by 2020. The festival also comes on the back of a record-breaking first six months of the year for the South Korean film industry.