By Park Boram
BUSAN, Oct. 13 (Yonhap) -- The 23rd Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) drew to a close on Saturday, recovering from four years of setbacks over artistic freedom, but left with the new task of finding ways to make the festival relevant in today's changing content market environment.
Typhoon Kong-rey forced BIFF to cancel or relocate some of its beachside events indoors right after the film festival opened on Oct. 4. Despite it, however, the 23rd BIFF drew a total of 195,081 attendees, up from 192,991 recorded last year, before the festival closed its 10-day itinerary.
This year's event hosted a total of 324 films from 79 countries around the world, led by the opening film "Beautiful Days." The numbers were also up from last year's 300 films from 76 countries.
A total of 115 of this year's invited films world premiered at BIFF.
The top awards in the main competition category, the New Currents Award, went to "Savage" by Chinese director Cui Si Wei and "Clean Up" by Korean director Kwon Man-ki. The New Currents prize awards feature films by up-and-coming Asian directors.
"Savage" depicts a grueling confrontation between a policeman and a group of criminals against the background of snow-topped Mount Paektu, exploring the human instinct to survive in extreme situations and blurring the line between who is good and evil.
"Clean Up" is a story of a woman who lost her son. She meets a homeless man while she makes efforts to overcome her son's death. The meeting conjures up the long-forgotten memory of her dark history, bringing to the fore a question of salvation and forgiveness.
The Kim Jiseok Award created this year to honor a late BIFF programmer with the same name went to Jamshid Mahmoudi's "Rona, Azim's Mother" and Zhang Wei's "The Rib."
The BIFF Mecenat Award was given to James T. Hong's "Opening Closing Forgetting" and Park Kyung-kun's "Army," while Kwon Sung-mo and Ashish Pandey took Sonje Award with their "Cat Day Afternoon" and "Nooreh" respectively.
Two Korean actresses -- Lee Ju-yeong and Choi Hee-seo -- took home the Actor & Actress of the Year Awards for their roles in "Maggie" and "Our Body," respectively.
"Thanks to the tendency to prominently select female actors this year, we have inevitably decided to award another female actor instead of male actor ... A big applause goes to many talented people nominated," the judges' panel of two movie stars, Yu Jun-sang and Ko Hyun-jung, was quoted as saying.
"Since the boycott from local film bodies has ended, more filmmakers from Korea and the world have visited the festival this year as well as actors and actresses," the BIFF's organizers said during a press conference on the closure of the festival.
"In consequence, the film festival finally proved to be normalized through making various events by many filmmakers."
Major associations of filmmakers and actors returned to the 23rd BIFF, ending their boycott of the festival which was triggered over past years by controversies regarding the festival's political neutrality and independence.
But the annual film festival is left with a new task as it seeks to adjust itself to the changing media landscape and to bolt ahead of other rival film festivals in Asia.
BIFF is at crossroad "in our efforts to find out whether we should come up with a set of formats of what we have done for the past 23 years," Lee Yong-kwan, the chairman of the festival's board of directors, said.
"The most difficult task of all is defining what it means to host an offline festival at a time of prevalent online (entertainment)," he said.
"(BIFF) needs to find ways to maintain its lead locally and globally at time when Asia is shedding its presence at the fringes of the West and becoming the center," Lee said, adding that the Busan festival also need to find its competitive edge over rival film festivals in Beijing and Tokyo.