Iraqi and Vietnamese directors scoop top prize at Busan film festival

Busan (South Korea) (AFP) –


An Iraq-Qatar co-production looking at life in war-torn Baghdad and a Vietnamese tale of a young bookie struggling to support himself and his loved ones have shared the top award at the 24th Busan International Film Festival.

Iraqi director Mohanad Hayal's "Haifa Street" and "Rom", from Vietnam's Tran Thanh Huy, won the festival's New Currents award, which hands out two prizes of $30,000 to first- or second-time Asian directors, early Saturday.

"The decision was tough and these two films are not first and second, this was not a horse-race," said New Currents jury head Mike Figgis, the Oscar-nominated director of "Leaving Las Vegas".

"We saw a lot of great work from young, exciting filmmakers who understand the art of cinema."

"Haifa Street" was a film with tension from beginning to end, the jury said in a statement.

"This is a mature, grown-up movie and the director exhibited a confidence and understanding of cinema language which set the film apart," their statement read. "Good to see a strong gender-balanced cast."

The New Currents jury praised "Rom" for "it's amazing energy".

Among the Hollywood stars to grace this year's event were previously Oscar-nominated Timothee Chalamet, with thousands waiting for his red carpet appearance alongside co-star Joel Edgerton, before the screening of their new film "The King".

Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda was in town to collect the Asian Filmmaker of the World award while the Korean industry was out in force, led by opening night host Lee Hanee.

This year's festival comes during unprecedented interest in Korean cinema, thanks to the global success of director Bong Joon-ho's Oscar favourite "Parasite".

That film is rolling out this week in the United States -? after claiming a Palm D?or at Cannes in May -? but there was a wealth of other local talent on display, with a buzz building around the likes of Yoon Dan-bi's sweeping family drama "Moving On".

BIFF had opened with the threat of Typhoon Mitag looming and with hundreds of flights to Korea cancelled, but skies cleared and the festival was able to go ahead with a series of outdoor screenings at venues across the city.

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

The festival announced on Saturday it intended to expand it's film funding efforts, including more TV and streaming platform content, and building a Korean cinema museum.

This year BIFF screened 299 films from 85 countries, with 118 world premieres, and almost 200,000 attending across its 10-day run.

The event ends on Saturday night with the official prize-giving, and with the world premiere of Korean director Lim Dae-hyung?s mother-daughter relationship drama "Moonlit Winter".