S.Korean filmmakers defend controversial ferry documentary

S.Korean filmmakers defend controversial ferry documentary
A vessel involved in salvage operations passes near the upturned South Korean Sewol ferry in the sea off Jindo, in this file picture taken April 17, 2014.

BUSAN, South Korea - Dozens of South Korean filmmakers and critics rallied behind a controversial film on the Sewol ferry disaster Friday, criticising efforts to prevent its screening at the Busan International Film Festival as an assault on freedom of expression.

The documentary - which is due to have its premiere Monday at Busan - focuses on botched rescue efforts during the April tragedy that killed about 300 people, mostly school students, in one of the country's worst ever disasters.

The tragedy was blamed by many on regulatory failings and official incompetence, and plunged the nation into months of mourning.

"Diving Bell" -- co-directed by Ahn Hae-Ryong and prominent leftwing journalist Lee Sang-Ho -- stirred emotions before the festival opened Thursday, with critics including Busan mayor and festival chairman Seo Byung-soo slamming it as too political and insensitive and calling on festival organisers to scrap the screening.

But some 20 directors, actors and producers held a protest in Busan on Friday to support the premiere, urging organisers to continue to stand by their decision to show the film and let the audience make up its own mind.

"If authorities ban movies with a certain political message, not a single movie will be shown here," prominent South Korean director Chung Ji-Young said during the event.

"Every movie has a certain political message one way or another, and the audience has a right to make their own verdict," he said.

The filmmakers also called for Seoul to quickly launch a special inquiry into the disaster as demanded by victims' relatives, releasing the signatures of 1,123 industry members in support of the probe.

Some waved banners and chanted a slogan saying, "We will be with the victims' families until the end."

Bong Joon-Ho, famed South Korean director and a juror of the festival, also dismissed the mayor's argument as a "mistake," saying in a separate press conference on Friday that Seo "does not seem to understand" how Asia's top film festival works.

The diving bell of the title was a piece of specialised equipment that was drafted in for the widely-criticised rescue and recovery operation, but hardly used -- to the bitter disappointment of relatives of the victims.

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