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Ex-BIFF staff member alleges sexual abuse by former executive director

By Kim Da-sol

Published : June 1, 2023 - 14:26

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Former BIFF Executive Director Huh Mun-young (BIFF) Former BIFF Executive Director Huh Mun-young (BIFF)

A former staff member of the Busan International Film Festival has alleged sexual abuse by ex-BIFF Executive Director Huh Mun-young, who offered to resign on May 11.

According to a local news report, the former staff member reported Huh to the Center for Gender Equality in Korean Film for sexual abuse. The staff member reportedly received counseling from the center until recently.

Huh is alleged to have ordered the staff member to perform unfair tasks at work, as well as using inappropriate language such as discriminatory sexual expressions for years, according to the local media report.

Huh denied the allegations. “It was very difficult for me to control my feelings since this situation is just unbelievable,” he said in a text message sent to reporters on Wednesday.

He also pleaded for the BIFF committee to accept his resignation.

“It will take a considerable amount of time to get the facts straight and if I make a comeback to the directorial post, the issue will go on to damage the festival. This is the ultimate reason why I’m resigning,” he said, adding that he would take legal action if necessary.

Huh, who was appointed to lead the festival in March 2021, is believed to have submitted his resignation to express his frustration over the recent transformation of the BIFF executive committee structure into a co-chair system.

Until recently, the festival’s overall operation planning and administrative work had been conducted by a director who works with the chairperson.

On May 9, BIFF appointed Cho Jong-kuk as head of operations, a newly created post, to lead BIFF’s administrative work and budgeting, so that Huh would be able to focus on overseeing the festival's programming.

BIFF Chairperson Lee Yong-kwan, who also submitted his resignation on May 15 following Huh’s sudden departure, said the cancellation of Cho’s appointment is “not an option.” Cho and Lee are known to be close acquaintances.

But Lee said he will “bring Huh back” to the leadership, as many film industry personnel have called for Huh's reinstatement. Lee and Huh were to hold a closed-door meeting Wednesday but Huh reportedly told Lee that he cannot return due to “personal issues.”

Industry insiders suggest that the current BIFF leadership struggle reveals the problems of film festivals. Some said it was wrong to appoint a close friend to a high position, regardless of the person's depth of experience or expertise.

Meanwhile, with less than four months to go until the festival, the BIFF organizer said they will come up with a way forward during a board meeting on Friday. But, it noted that Huh's resignation will not be processed immediately as it awaits Huh's return and for more information on the allegations against him.

The 28th BIFF will take place from Oct. 4 to Oct. 13.