Kim Ji-seok, the Deputy Director and Executive Programmer of the Busan International Film Festival, has died of a heart attack during his visit to the Cannes Film Festival. He was 57.

According to local media reports, Kim was feeling unwell on the 18th and decided to return to his apartment early after a visit to the hospital. He was found unconscious by his staff later that night.

Born and educated in Busan, Kim joined BIFF in 1996 as one of its founding members. Over his 21 years at the festival as programmer, Kim has been credited with playing a major part in bringing the best of Asian cinema to Busan and helping BIFF grow into one of Asia’s largest film festivals, making him one of the most respected figures in the Asian cinema community.

Recently, Kim helped steer the festival through its most difficult period, when it was under political persecution for defying local government order to halt the screening of controversial documentary The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol (다이빙벨) in 2014. Public funding for the festival was drastically cut, and festival head Lee Yong-kwan was forced out of his job.

“It was a privilege to have known and to have worked with Mr. Kim. He brought his intelligence, extensive knowledge of cinema and exceptional taste to the Asian Film Awards. He lit up the careers of many filmmakers, and illuminated many areas of cinema and films for audiences and the film community around the world. Today that light may be diminished but not extinguished as all of his colleagues, including ourselves, will continue to keep alive the flame and passion for cinema which he inspired,” the Asian Film Awards Academy wrote in a statement. The AFA Academy is a joint effort by the Hong Kong, Tokyo and Busan Film Festivals.

“He was a great professional and a great program organizer, always curious about everything – he saw every film there was to see. He was a fierce defender of Korean cinema, having accompanied the emergence of the new generation in his country. With Christian Jeune, we loved him dearly and are heartbroken at his passing,” says Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Frémaux in a statement.

Filmmakers and industry insiders around the region have also been sharing their grief on their social media, including Kim’s Facebook wall.