Iranian director Hadi Mohaghegh's "Immortal" and "Walnut Tree" from Kazakhstan's Yerlan Nurmukhambetov were Saturday morning named the winners of the New Currents award for first- and second-time filmmakers at the 20th Busan International Film Festival, each receiving US$30,000.
"Immortal", a moving tale about a suicidal man and the grandson determined to convince him he has many reasons to live, was praised by New Currents jury president Sylvia Chang for its "extraordinary feat of visual storytelling, filled with emotion."
Meanwhile "Walnut Tree", which looks at the interaction within a small, close-knit community, was a simple film that "proves how humour, kindness, and forgiveness connect us all", said veteran Taiwanese filmmaker Chang.
Both directors will be presented with their prizes at the festival's closing ceremony Saturday night, which will also feature the world premiere of Chinese director Larry Yang's drama "Mountain Cry".
After a screening of his film earlier in the week, Mohaghegh explained to AFP there was a generation of filmmakers in his country who wanted the world to see the very human side of Iranian society.
"Film can reflect that emotions, and life, are both in many ways the same all over the world," he said.
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At the end of its 10-day run the festival will have screened 302 films from 75 countries, and presented 94 world premieres.
Festival organisers announced a record 227,337 theatre visits this year, a welcome fillip after 12 months that had seen them struggle with funding issues.
"Substantial growth and quality growth are what we have to look at now," said festival co-director Lee Yong-kwan.
"After 20 years we have to continue to discover new trends in Asia and show them to the world."
The strength of Korean cinema was very much to the fore this year, as reflected in the results of the secondary awards.
The Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) Award went to debut director Lee Seung-Won’s gripping exercise in experimental cinema, "Communication & Lies", which was also a favourite among critics.
The two directors recognised by the Director's Guild of Korea award for their work – Kim Jin-Hwang for "The Boys Who Cried Wolf" and 0 Muel for "Eyelids" – showed the future of the domestic industry here was in good hands.
O Muel's work, about an old man who makes rice cakes for spirits on their way to the next world, was praised by the judges as a film that "proves itself as a piece of art."