Owing to COVID-19, the 37th Busan International Short Film Festival jury held an online meeting to select the NETPAC award winner. The three jury members, Park Inho, Ranjanee Ratnavibhushana, and Shin Dongseok watched nineteen films in the Korean Competition and eleven Asian films in the International Competition. The 19 Korean films comprised fifteen fiction, two documentaries, and two animation. The jury found the lack of variety a bit disappointing. There were more fiction films than the other genres such as experimental film, documentary, and animation. It was the same with Asian films too. There were nine fiction, one documentary, and one animation.
One of the characteristics of Asian films is that they deal with personal and social issues. Specifically, Asian films focus more on how social and political situations such as war, displacement, and discrimination affect individuals and how individuals respond to such situations. In the case of Korea, more films reflect the bleak social and political conditions in the country, including youth unemployment, women’s plight, family feuds, and the unfair, ruthless system that North Korean defectors and ethnic Korean - Chinese come across in Korea. Unfortunately, Korean society doesn’t seem to embrace wounded souls with generosity. We, the jury members, were most impressed with the way each film attests to the power and beauty of cinema by focusing on an individual. These works successfully capture life —sometimes through compression and sometimes through a silent gaze.
The jury discussed Adam by Shoki Lin from Singapore, Stay Awake, Be Ready, a Vietnam - Korea - U.S. co-production by Phan Thien, and Vietnam, Sunsets, a Thai documentary by Pedroli Domenico Singha. Showing the authentic beauty that the short film form has, the three films observe subtle differences and emotional changes in daily life. Among Korean films, the jury deliberated on two animation films―Tiger and Ox by Kim Seunghee and Snail Man by Park Jaebeom. Both films try out various forms to show how a world of family expands outward into society. Post discussion, the jury narrowed down its choice to two films―Adam and Tiger and Ox. Finally these two films were awarded on ex-aequo basis. The former follows a family’s misfortune and a boy’s emotions. The latter is the story of a single mom who raises her daughter alone in Korea. Adam forms a consensus by taking a general approach to children’s problems, candidly following how the boy feels. In a simple form, the director captures the boy’s little trifles in life and his longing for someone who would accept him as he is. Tiger and Ox has a kaleidoscopic drawing style. It deals with questions such as how a divorced woman is received in Korea’s patriarchal society and what the significance of a fatherless family is. While the director and her mother voice their opinions, their opposed personalities are expressed in the tiger and ox images. Unconstrained expressions and elaborate drawings entertain both our eyes and brains. The director never forgets to highlight the fact that female divorcees are surrounded by social biases.
This year, BISFF wasn’t able to invite the audience to movie theaters. Now we have to discuss the meaning of online screening and the absence of community experience in film-viewing. As we notice how people in the 31 films don’t wear face masks and freely meet and eat together, we miss more than ever how we held or shook hands with each other without constraints. What kinds of face and landscape will we see in films next year?
-- Author Park Inho -- Edited by Latika Padgaonkar