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Letters From BIFF Programmers

Documentary Characters Who Command Our Attention
Characters shown in documentaries often cause us anxiety. The pain and sorrows, the anger and frustration, and the rapture and success that they feel traverse the comfortable distance between the screen and the audience and overwhelm us. This is probably because, unlike fictional characters, documentary characters are real people who eat, sleep, and breathe just like us. I am introducing some documentary characters at this year’s Busan International Film Festival who will fascinate, shock, bring tears to our eyes, and demand our attention.
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Children of the Night Dir. Behrouz Nouranipour

Behrouz Nouranipour’s Children of the Night and Gianfranco Rosi’s Notturno are two very different films that feature children living in a contemporaneous hell on earth. In Children of the Night, children are trained to be ISIS suicide bombers; and in Notturno, there are scenes in which children make horrific drawings after being traumatized by the horrors of ISIS.
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Notturno Dir. Gianfranco Rosi

In contrast to Children of the Night which is full of scenes that make one wonder how they were filmed, Notturno is full of ironically poetic moments. The worlds in which these children live are far from ours, but that sense of distance dissipates while we are watching the films.
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School Town King Dir. Wattanapume Laisuwanchai

A film of a different tone that features children is School Town King. I can imagine the thrill in the audience seats when the kid rappers of the slums of Thailand express their cutting thoughts on issues such as poverty, inequality, and an oppressive educational system through spontaneous rap.
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Song Hae 1927 Dir. Jéro Yun

Jéro Yun’s Song Hae 1927 deals with a figure very well known to Koreans. It is also widely known that Song Hae’s son, who was training to become a musician, passed away in the 80s due to a motorcycle accident. There is a scene that is hard to forget: the son had left 4 cassette tape worth of songs, which his sister had dearly held on to for a long time. She shows the producers her brother’s tapes, the existence of which even the father himself did not know. In the scene in which Song Hae listens to his son’s songs for the first time in 30 years...I will end here because I feel like I have already spoiled the film.

Orson Welles’ HOPPER/WELLES and Toyoshima Keisuke’s Mishima: The Last Debate are both records of historic moments with legendary figures.

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HOPPER/WELLES Dir. Orson Welles

Both films will meet audiences for the first time after being filmed 50 years ago, but only rediscovered this year and meeting audiences for the first time. In 1970, Orson Welles recorded the talk with Dennis Hopper, who had just made his directorial debut with Easy Rider (1969). Their talk went deep into the night, and Welles captured it in film. I think there will be many cinéphiles who wonder what the two iconoclastic figures in Hollywood history talked about. One thing that leaves me wanting, is the fact that Welles only appears as a voice off-screen.
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Mishima: The Last Debate Dir. Toyoshima Keisuke

Mishima: The Last Debate is, as seen from the title, a film that focuses on the far-right nationalist Mishima Yukio. However, I think we will find another figure more memorable after the film is finished. A captivating figure bravely stands against the charismatic Mishima in front of a thousand-strong audience of the All Campus Joint Struggle Committee at the University of Tokyo. He restores the ideological balance in a film that would have otherwise been overly tilted to the right.
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The Mole Agent Dir. Maite Alberdi

Sometimes in documentaries, we meet characters more dramatic than those in fictional films. The protagonist in Self-portrait 2020 is a tragicomic character whose fate turned from a promising director to a homeless person. Eunhye in Your Face is an artist with Down syndrome who is quirky and joyful like the main character in a romantic comedy. Frank Capraesque everyday heroes actualize justice with grit and commitment in The Fight, while in The Mole Agent an 83-year-old spy sneaks into a nursing home with a secret mission. In The Painter and the Thief, the painter continues a strange relationship with her art thief.
Characters never seen before await us this October in Busan.
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By Wide Angle Programmer
KANG Sowon