By Park Boram
BUSAN, Oct. 12 (Yonhap) -- Founded in the small eastern French city of Vesoul in 1995, the Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinema has grown to become the biggest festival featuring exclusively Asian films in France and in continental European.
In its first year, 1,500 people attended its program of 12 films, but the numbers have increased to 32,500 festival-goers enjoying a program of 90 full-length films as of the festival's 24th edition earlier this year.
During the 24-year period, Korean films have taken root there, becoming today's most frequently screened Asian movies in France.
This is mainly due to Korean films' award wins in big-name international film festivals such as the Cannes Film Festival and Venice Film Festival, but it is also thanks to ardent Asian movie lovers like the founders of the Vesoul International Film Festival, Martine Therouanne and Jean-Marc Therouanne.
In recognition of the couple's contributions to the Korean film industry, this year's Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) awarded them the Korean Cinema Award in recognition of their running the Asian film festival since its founding.
The couple called their film festival a "UCO" or "unidentified cinematic object" for its differences from other film festivals.
"The budget is about a fifth or a tenth that of other international film festivals. So the most of the staff, including us -- two executive staff members -- work on the basis of voluntary service," the Therouannes said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency on the sidelines of the Busan festival on Thursday.
The meager financial base, however, did not stop the couple from discovering and introducing to the French market new talented Korean directors, even ahead of their commercial success and recognition in their home country.
Korean-Chinese filmmaker Zhang Lu and O Muel, director of the film "Jiseul," were among those the couple discovered early on. The Therouannes were in fact behind the commercial distribution in France of "Jiseul," a 2013 film on a massacre on Korea's Jeju Island in 1948.
Diversity and energy are part of the special allure of Korean movies, the couple said, adding that Director Lee Chang-dong's latest release, "Burning," is one such movie that is currently successful in France.
"What I was impressed with about Korean movies is their power and diversity. So I think they are the movies that need to be distributed widely and recognized," Mr. Therouanne said.
"Today, many young (Korean) directors seem to be dealing with the stories of adolescents ... and it's very surprising to see how energetic the young generation (of directors) is. It's something difficult to see in France," he noted.
"In France, some 15 films get released every week, so it's very difficult for films to be successful just by word of mouth," Ms. Therouanne added.
Attending the Busan film festival every year, the couple is also impressed by the high proportion of younger attendees.
"At the beginning of every year, we start off by marking the schedule of BIFF on the calendar. Among the five biggest international film festivals, BIFF is the most passionate and the warmest," the couple said. This is also where they see the biggest number of young audience members and where it is easiest to mingle with official guests, according to them.
Since its founding, a number of Korean directors and guests have also graced the Vesoul film festival, starting with veteran actor Shin Sung-il's attendance at the festival's third edition in 1997.
Since then 20 Korean directors have been recognized by the film festival, with young Korean directors nominated for its main competition category every year, the couple noted.
Next year, the festival will have a special theme featuring Asian cinematic couples as it marks the 25th anniversary of its founding. The event is scheduled to run from Feb. 5-12, 2019.