By Jonathan Hopfner
SEOUL (Reuters) - Asia's most renowned film festival drew to a close in the South Korean port city of Busan on Friday, with films from new directors in Iran and the Philippines capturing its main prizes in an affirmation of the event's focus on emerging Asian talent.
"Nino," a portrait of the decline of a wealthy family by Filipino director Loy Arcenas, took home one of the festival's two "New Currents" prizes, which award $30,000 to outstanding films by novice Asian directors.
The other went to "Mourning," an alternately somber and comic road movie by Iran's Morteza Farshbaf.
A wealth of content from countries such as Iran and Myanmar made the nine-day festival a more politically charged event than in previous years.
Organizers issued a statement expressing "serious concern" about the recent arrest of six Iranian filmmakers on espionage charges, calling for their swift release.
Farshbaf welcomed the move, saying similar pressure had persuaded the Iranian government to release artists in the past.
"These (statements) are I think the only way that people can help, because if (filmmakers) speak about the situation we cannot work," he told Reuters this week.
"We have to wait for other people living in freer countries to express something about it."
Luc Besson and Michelle Yeoh, director and lead actress respectively of "The Lady," a biography of Myanmar democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi that was another highlight of the festival, praised the Myanmar military regime's recent mass release of dissidents, calling it "joyful news."
Myanmar was also featured in "Return to Burma," one of the films that had been nominated for the New Currents prize, which incorporated footage shot secretly in the country by Myanmar-born, Taiwan-based director Midi Z.
This year's festival, the 16th, was also notable for a stunning new venue and was hailed by organizers as the most successful ever, with its 300-plus films drawing almost 200,000 theater visits. There were 89 world premiers.
The associated Asian Film Market, designed to link Asian filmmakers with global distributors and buyers, also racked up a record number of participants and screenings, organizers said.
Industry participants rated the event highly.
"The film industry is truly global and the (festival) brings a vast variety of quality international films to an eager audience," Mike Ellis, president, Asia-Pacific for the Motion Picture Association, told Reuters.
"The opportunity to meet leading filmmakers and discuss how to promote and protect the film industry could not be done in a more relaxing venue."
(Editing by Elaine Lies)