Busan: Main Awards Handed to Iraqi-Qatari and Vietnamese Dramas

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New Currents jury head Mike Figgis says the strength and diversity of the films selected augur well for the future of Asian cinema.

The 24th Busan International Film Festival has awarded its main New Currents prizes to the Iraq-Qatar co-production Haifa Street and to Vietnam’s Rom, films that jury head Mike Figgis said showed the emergence of exciting new talent.

"We saw young filmmakers showing their concerns for the future, which is great," said the Oscar-nominated British director (Leaving Las Vegas). "We were looking for filmmakers of the future, for filmmakers who demonstrate that they understand the language of cinema."

The awards offer two prizes of $30,000 to first- or second-time Asian filmmakers.

Iraqi director Mohanad Hayal’s Haifa Street looks at the fate of a man who returns to Baghdad from the U.S. and tries to piece his life together and won praise from the New Currents jury for its gender-balanced cast.

"Tension is created from the beginning and is tightly maintained until the end. This is a mature, grown-up movie and the director exhibited a confidence and understanding of cinema language which set the film apart," the jury statement read.

Vietnamese director Tran Thanh Huy’s Rom centers around the life of a young bookmaker and his efforts to stay alive on the bustling streets of Saigon.

"The film has amazing energy and this combined with excellent performances and some spectacular camera work to make a standout film," read the final jury statement. "The use of real, live locations impressed the jury greatly and the open ending was very satisfying."

BIFF will formally hand its awards out Saturday night before the world premiere of the closing film, the Lim Dae-hyung-directed Moonlit Winter.

Other productions to generate noise across BIFF’s 10-day run included Korean director Yoon Dan-bi’s aching family drama Moving On, which collected a slew of secondary awards.

The fest this year screened 299 films from 85 countries, with 118 world premieres. Total attendance across its 10-day run was 189,116. The side-bar Asian Film Market reported 2,188 visitors, up 22 percent from last year, with 200 companies represented and more than $2 million in broadcast copyright deals done and dusted.

A little Hollywood glamour came with the appearance of Timothee Chalamet — dazzling down the red carpet in paint-splattered overalls to keep thousands of local fans happy, while also keeping the press in his pocket by name-checking Korean directors during the press conference for The King.

Joel Edgerton was also in town along with director David Michod for that film’s screening while the wider world of cinema was represented by the likes of Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda, in town to received the Asian Filmmaker of the Year award, and Malaysia star Lee Sinje, back on the big screen with the sweeping HBO Asia co-production The Garden of Evening Mist.

Typhoon Mitag had lurked ominously off the coast before BIFF started, and hundreds of guests had to alter travel plans accordingly, but the weather cleared and a new program of outdoor screenings in the wider reaches of the city were able to go ahead.

"There was the possibility of chaos, but in the end there were no problems," said BIFF chairman Lee Yong-kwan.

Future plans include the creation of a Korean cinema museum and an expansion of the festival’s reach into the growing world of streaming through its Asia Contents Awards.