BUSAN, South Korea – To answer the question whether it’s still open for business now that Busan’s international film festival (BIFF) has wrapped: absolutely.
In front of me, I hold two brochures. The first is a monthly schedule of film screenings and live performances (theatrical, musical), the second lays out the complex itself. How many square meters? Molayo (I don’t know), but it’s big. Big with mesmerizing angles, crushing facades and possibly powered by dilithium crystals. You never know. As tough as it is to put words to Busan Cinema Center, from across the nearby Suyeong River it resembles a starship awaiting its next mission. Don’t tell Shatner.
Whatever the description though, it’s strangely in harmony with its surroundings, the flowing river in front, the mountains behind and the circuit board of city here at Haeundae district’s west end.
The Center’s three primary pieces are Cinemountain, BIFF Hill and the cryptic Double Cone. Cinemountain is just that, a chunky but slick block that slopes upward (and down) on one side, glass on a waffle matrix. I imagine its “peak” would be nine floors, the office space most of us would find ourselves kindly kicked out of. But underneath it are four state-of-the-art theaters, many with chameleon abilities: presentation stages, 3D/film/digital projection and loads of legroom. I discovered this during a BIFF screening of Ben Affleck’s Argo, in the three-tiered Haneulyeon performing arts theater. (Okay, here’s a personal question for you: What’s it worth to be able to extend your legs within the collective experience, without making collective enemies? Busan Cinema Center’s answer: 6,000 won. Some films are half as much.)
Facing the back entrance of the Shinsegae Department Store, BIFF Hill is the smaller building, as the name hints. It’s also more of a resource for students and professionals than something to entertain Joe Blow the film fan. Kind of. Even as I write and sip caffeine within the open-walled Café Raon, students from Dongseo University prepare a slide presentation on Environmental Design. No one’s stopping you from watching of course. What’s encouraging is that the complex appears to embrace the greater community, including art lovers but not not art snobs.
Now that doesn’t imply access to BIFF Hill’s editing and projection rooms for the sake of your most recent weekend’s Jägerbomb opus, but the Center does seem genuine in its promise to “promote Busan as one of Asia’s most cine-friendly city [sic].”
Classes in HD filmmaking and Avid editing systems are currently up for grabs (in Korean, and for a fee I presume) while the library (2F) houses a collection of cinema-related reading material (in English, too) and an international film catalog. No backpacks though. It’s a small price to pay for what essentially amounts to a free video store. Ben-Hur, Gladiator and a host of films without chariots are available for viewing on-site.
Hats off to the designers, Austrian firm Coop Himmelb(l)au, led by Wolf Prix. Regardless of what side I’m on, I can’t pass by their year-old structure without rubbernecking. But does the architecture out-perform its content? A matter of opinion I suppose, which might change depending on what the content actually is.
For that we turn once again to the information brochure. “You can enjoy various genres of movies here, including art house, family-oriented and popular movies, as well as sophisticated and high quality performances.” Clear as jjigae? Let’s look at the marquee then. While Looper plays at the CGV across the way, Busan Cinema Center is running 20-year-old Asian classics, a series of world music docs and an anniversary retrospective on Japanese filmmaker Suzuki Seijun. In November comes a themed series with films by Polanski, Louis Malle and Canadian actress Sarah Polley. It partly explains the absence of little ones. Nothing by Pixar yet.
The few children I do see are wandering around slack-jawed. Are they in awe or just looking for a trampoline room? It’s hard to tell what they think, or anyone really. This is not an experience most of us are used to. The few rooms and levels that are off limits are clearly signed but most of this puzzle is fair game, from the prestige ramp that snakes around the Double Cone, connecting it to Hill and Mountain, to the greater Dureraum Plaza. Even now, several visits later, I wander the grounds a bit unsure, waiting for Ridley Scott to shout me off his epic set or for security to drop the Korean word for “trespassing”.
Take the outdoor BIFF Theater, for example, lodged behind the Cone between Mountain and Hill. Good luck getting a chair during the film festival’s glossiest ceremonies, but now, outside of those ten days in October, just sit. Very cool having a 4,000-seat venue to yourself, in front of Korea’s biggest movie screen. Hope you like looped previews.
My neck hurts. It’s almost impossible not to look up and think that yeah, maybe Chicken Little was right. The aptly named Big Roof and Small Roof (not so small really) are two mammoth slabs that form a canopy over most of the complex. The larger of the two holds the Guinness Record for the world’s longest cantilevered roof, stretching 85 meters from its single-pillared support, the Double Cone. After dark the canopy goes Crayola. Forty-thousand LEDs paint the surface in colored streaks, graphics and tie-dyed patterns, enough to embarrass any rainbow.
As a communication tool it’s impressive. Impressive all around in fact. Don’t just stand there then, take a picture. Wide angle.
Photos by Colin Michael Moore
You can check out more from Colin at his blog, Ajuma Alive.