BIFF founder Kim Dong-ho talks festival beginnings, 'Walking in the Movies' Cannes premiere

Former Busan International Film Festival director Kim Dong-ho films with his camcorder in a scene from documentary film "Walking in the Movies," directed by Kim Lyang. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

Former Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) director Kim Dong-howas invited to the 77th Cannes International Film Festival for appearing in the documentary "Walking in the Movies."

Kim said it was like it was a dream that was "too good to be true."

Though Kim had visited Cannes before as the director of BIFF, this experience seemed more special to him, as it was the first time he had made the trip as the star of a film.

"Walking in the Movies" was screened last Thursday during the Cannes Classics section as part of the Documentaries about Cinema screening, which introduces documentaries on major figures in film history.

The film received a standing ovation.

"Walking in the Movies" documents Kim's life, his career and the creation of BIFF. It was directed by Kim Lyang.

“For the last 24 years, I always visited the Cannes Film Festival as the festival director of BIFF or as a jury member, so it was my role to follow behind the actors and film directors on the red carpet,” the 87-year-old Kim Dong-ho said last Saturday at the Korean Film Council’s booth in Cannes.

Kim Dong-ho said that during his previous visits to Cannes, he did not want to miss the "standing ovation moments" and always prepared to take photos at the end of each film's screening.

A scene from documentary film ″Walking in the Movies,″ which screened at the Cannes Film Festival last Thursday. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

This time, it was he himself who received the standing ovation. “I was puzzled at first when the audience started to stand up and clap toward me this time. Then tears started to fill up a bit and something overwhelming started to rush inside me,” Kim Dong-ho said.

Documentary director Kim began shooting the film in February last year. It delves into the process of how Kim Dong-ho succeeded in making BIFF an international event on the film festival calendar. It includes special memories from this time and words from renowned figures, including Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Frémaux and actors Zo In-sung, Park Jeong-ja and Ye Ji-won.

Directors Im Kwon-taek, Lee Chang-dong and Hirokazu Kore-eda also shared their stories about Kim Dong-ho in the film.

Kim Dong-ho, also nicknamed “the father of all film workers,” did not start off his career in the film industry. After graduating from Seoul National University’s School of Law, he worked as a civil servant for the Ministry of Culture and Public Information, now known as the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

During his 30 years as a civil servant, he laid the foundation for numerous cultural institutes, such as the Independence Hall of Korea, the Seoul Arts Center, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and the National Gugak Center.

He launched BIFF at the age of 59, beginning his second chapter in life at a time when others generally prepare for retirement.

“In 1995, a few Busan youngsters came up to me and asked me to take the festival director position for an international film festival that they were preparing,” Kim Dong-ho said. “I accepted their proposal, falling for their passion.”

However, the process was not easy. While preparing for the film festival, which was scheduled to open just over a year later, Kim Dong-ho was tasked with forming a committee, selecting films and inviting guests and judges.

It was "like starting from scratch," he said. Kim Dong-ho headed straight for Cannes to network, meeting some film industry insiders that he'd met when working for the former Korean Film Council.

BIFF founder Kim Dong-ho poses at the Cannes Croisette coast, near where the Korean Film Council’s booth stands, last Saturday. [BECK U-NA]

"There, I gathered 15 people to participate in BIFF — two from Cannes Film Festival, three from Berlin, one from Munich and also from Montreal and Nantes. We cheered, saying, 'Let’s go to Busan,' during that lunch. After that, I felt confident that I could do it well.”

The area near the Busan hotel where the festival guests stayed became a must-visit spot for international film fans and workers during BIFF.

“There was nowhere to go after the screenings finished late at night,” Kim Dong-ho said. “So, we laid out newspapers on the floor to sit on and brought a street vendor to the corner of the hotel where the guests stayed and started drinking," said Kim Dong-ho.

"It became a street party where people, including actors, film directors and film festival insiders who were passing by, talked about films all night long.”

Kim Dong-ho emphasizes that a nation’s culture does not develop solely based on a single artist’s ability but also depends on the system that supports the artist.

“Since the Covid-19 pandemic, moviegoers shrunk to one-fourth, which still has not recovered. Also, young film directors aren’t being discovered to follow directors Park Chan-wook, Bong Jun-ho, Lim Kwon-taek, Lee Chang-dong and Hong Sang-soo, who led the Korean film scene.”

“The most crucial support needed is from the government during such times,” Kim Dong-ho added, expressing his disappointment toward the recent government’s budget reduction for film festivals.

After the interview, Kim Dong-ho rushed to watch a screening of Chinese director Jia Zhangke’s “Caught by the Tides,” which was entered into official competition at the Cannes Film Festival.

His current dream is to produce a documentary by himself.

Using his camcorder, which he bought in February last year, he interviewed various figures in the film industry, independent movie theater workers, film workers from Japan and Taiwan, Belgian filmmaking duo Dardenne Brothers and Filipino filmmaker Brillante Mendoza.

He plans to complete the documentary this year, which revolves around the decline in movie theater attendances and how to resolve the issue based on industry insiders' experience and know-how.

It seems Kim Dong-ho's work in the industry isn't done yet. Much like the title of his film, he continues to walk in the movies even to this day.