'Home' takes Pacific Meridian top honors

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VLADIVOSTOK, Russia -- Hong Kong director Zhang Yang's "Getting Home" won the top prize Friday as the fifth edition of Russia's Pacific Meridian film festival, which showcases films from Asia Pacific region, came to a close.

The film, Zhang's fifth, tells the story of man who keeps his promise to a friend who dies during a drinking party, taking his corpse on an epic journey across thousands of miles of China.

Two other top awards went to Japanese actress-turned-director Mamoi Kaori, who took both best director and best actress for "Faces of a Fig Tree," in which she also stars.

The film, about a family torn apart by a tragic accident, is her directorial debut.

Best actor went to Russian theater actor Sergey Puskepalis, who plays a doctor in Alexei Popogrebsky's "Simple Things." The film won the top prize at Kinotavr, Russia's national film festival.

A special jury prize went to New Zealand's Taika Waititi for odd couple comedy "Eagle vs Shark."

Best short film, which also screened closing night, went to Russian director Leonid Rybakov's 19-minute film "Stone People," an ironic black comedy about the pilots and crews who seed the clouds above Moscow to ensure that parades held on Red Square are rain-free.

President Putin's Far East region representative Kamil Iskhakov on Friday night praised the festival as a "truly international event" that signaled the importance of Vladivostok within the wider Pacific region. "I am absolutely sure this is the best festival in Russia," Iskhakov said at the closing ceremony.

The presence of President Putin's special representative underlined the political importance given the festival in Russia's easternmost major city.

Situated less than 200 miles from the Chinese border, Vladivostok and the surrounding Primorsky Region, is considered by the Kremlin as a key strategic point. Groups of flag-waving supporters of chief government party United Russia at Friday's closing ceremony at the Okean cinema emphasized that.

Artistically, the Pacific Meridian festival has carved out a unique position by insisting that its films cannot be in distribution theatrically, on television or even via pirate copy in Russia.

Lauded by international guests for its professionalism, the festival's international jury was headed by French director Bruno Dumont, "Flanders" won the grand jury prize at Cannes last year.

Dumont praised the artistic merit of the 22 films in competition that came from countries including Canada, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific Rim nations.

"This festival has a really keen artistic understanding of movies and is organized beautifully," Dumont said. "Flanders" was among those screened in the festival's panorama section.

The festival opened Sept. 15 with Sergei Bodrov's epic Ghengis Khan biopic, "Mongol," which went into wide general release throughout Russia on Thursday. It also screened Japanese director Shinichiro Sawai's new film about the same subject, "The Blue Wolf: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea."

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