Ferry tragedy film causes stir at Busan

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A South Korean documentary about the Sewol ferry disaster has stoked controversy ahead of tomorrow's opening of the 19th Busan International Film Festival.

The world premiere of Diving Bell from directors Lee Sang Ho and Ahn Hae Ryong will screen on Monday. It has already stirred emotions in a nation still recovering from the shock of the April disaster that claimed more than 300 lives, including those of 250 high school students.

The diving bell of the title was a piece of specialised equipment drafted in for the widely criticised rescue and recovery operation, but hardly used.

Critics, including the victims' families, say the film is insensitive and overly politicised, and have called on the organisers to scrap its screening.

Busan mayor Seo Byung So, also chairman of the festival committee, argued that as the festival is 60 per cent funded by taxpayers, such a contentious screening should not be considered unless "the film-makers... decide to show the film using their private funds".

However, organisers have stood by their decision to screen the film. South Korean film-makers have called for a full government inquiry into the Sewol disaster.

The festival's guest list includes actors Ken Watanabe and Tang Wei, director Zhang Yimou, and art house directors Bela Tarr and Mohsen Makh- malbaf.

The festival will feature nearly 100 premieres from 79 countries, including the relatively small film-making communities of Bangladesh, Nepal, Lebanon and Iraq.

Busan's Korean Cinema Today programme boasts nine world premieres in a showcase of the country's independent directors, including Hong Seok Jae's hotly anticipated Socialphobia which tackles cyber-bullying issues.

The festival's main award - New Currents - offers two prizes of US$30,000 (S$38,000) to first- or second-time Asian film-makers. This year, it will be contested by 12 films from 12 countries including - for the first time - Bangladesh (Abu Shahed Emon's Jalal's Story) and Lebanon (Amin Dora's Ghadi).

The festival runs till Oct 11 and will close with the premiere of Hong Kong director Lee Bo Cheung's thriller Gangster Pay Day.

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