I reached Jerzy Zielinski, ASC, PSC, in Vancouver, where he was shooting a pilot for NBC Universal titled Miranda’s Rights. He had recently returned from the Busan International Film Festival, held in the second largest city in South Korea. Billed as the first international film festival in Korea, BIFF is in its 20th year and focuses on new films and first-time directors. The fest takes place in a gleaming new facility, the Busan Cinema Center, which includes a 4000-seat outdoor theater and four indoor screens. In 2015, the fest screened 302 films from 75 countries, and counted almost 10,000 guests. The fest is not competitive and does not include juries, and a film market is held concurrently that is growing in size and importance.
Jerzy was an honored presence, serving as one of three mentors and screening his film The King of Life, which he directed. The other mentors were Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai and Singaporean director Anthony Chen. The students included handpicked aspiring filmmakers of every stripe.
The mentorship program is designed in part as the first step toward establishing a more permanent film school, the Asian Film Academy. The AFA has been going in its current form for a dozen years, and counts 265 alumni in 29 countries. Its stated mission is to foster young Asian filmmaking talents and to help them build networks throughout Asia.
In his mentor capacity, Jerzy began working with about two dozen film students prior to traveling to the fest. He was in Busan for nearly two weeks.
“We chose two of the students’ scripts, and went through the whole process of developing them,” says Jerzy. “Eventually, when I arrived there, we chose locations, talked about the film language, and shot. Then they cut everything together with some sound and music, and on the final day, there was a screening of the two student films.
“The workshop was very well-prepared and very extensive,” he says. “For the students, it was terrific, because they came from different countries, and they really had to learn how to communicate with each other. I’m not talking about language—we were using the English language—but how to communicate and collaborate creatively with people from different countries and cultures.”
Jerzy also presented two other films he had shot as part of lectures focuses on composition and visual effects. There were other sessions on the topics of postproduction, directing, and other aspects of filmmaking.
“The days were really packed,” says Jerzy. “It was a great experience.”
One person caught Jerzy by surprise when she approached him after a screening of The King of Life. That film follows an impatient man whose outlook on life is radically changed when he is in car accident.
“This was a completely different audience for my film, and I wasn’t sure how they would react,” says Jerzy. “The kids asked so many great questions, and I realized that my movie is kind of a universal story, understood and appreciated by the audience. After the Q&A, there was time for autographs and selfies. But then one young woman approached who was obviously not in festive mood. She said, ‘I just wanted to tell you that I was in a car crash a couple of days ago, and it was horrible, but after watching your movie, I feel better. It changed my mood.’
“She was so serious, and it was a very emotional moment,” says Jerzy. “It was such a great thing to hear from someone from a completely different part of the world. I was so glad to see that my story somehow translated.”
The films that Jerzy’s students made can be viewed at this link: http://afa.biff.kr/Template/Builder/00000001/page.asp?page_num=5974