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Thirteen Asian movie directors compete for top award

Thirteen novice Asian directors are competing at the region's premier film festival this week for an award they hope will kick-start their careers and grab international attention.

The 15th Pusan International Film Festival's main award, which will be presented on Friday, is known as New Currents and offers two 30,000 dollar prizes for first- or second-time Asian directors.

This year it has attracted an eclectic selection of productions from across the region, with South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, mainland China, the Philippines, India and Iraq all represented.

"It is an award that puts the film-maker in the public eye and in the eye of the international film community," said New Currents jury head Emi Wada, the Oscar-winning Japanese costume designer.

Among the early front-runners for the award is the atmospheric Thai production "Eternity" by first-time director Sivaroj Kongsakul.

"As a young independent director you are trying to get noticed," he said.

"The films are often very personal so it might be hard to find an audience in commercial cinemas but screening at this festival, and being accepted for this award, puts you in touch with an audience and with important members of the international film community such as foreign producers."

The Thai director's film is, he said, a chance to ponder the relationship with his father who died when he was a young boy. Set in three parts, it looks at a man searching for his hometown, the man's first contact with his future wife, and what happens to the wife after the man dies.

"It was made for relatively no money at all," said Sivaroj. "I am hoping that through the attention we get here we will be able to take this film to other film festivals all around the world."

For China's Lu Yang - another first-timer whose "My Spectacular Theatre" follows the tale of a criminal who finds himself working in a cinema set up for the blind - the New Currents award has presented a chance not found in his homeland.

"People have only really recently started going to the cinema in China," he said. "And they want to spend their money on big budget blockbusters, not on small films that might make them think or might reflect on their own hardships.

"So I am just happy to get anyone to see my film."

Iraqi-Kurd Hassan Ali Mahmoud is hoping that by screening his film "The Quarter of Scarecrows" in Busan, the audience and the film world at large might be exposed to a story that up until recently might never have been told.

Hassan readily offered that his film - about a farmer desperate to keep a flock of crows off his field - was a reflection on the recent politics of his country.

"With the trouble in my homeland over the past few decades we have had stories to tell - but no way of telling them," he said.

"About 85 percent of the films that come out of my country now are about its recent history and what we have lived through. And without festivals the world might never get to see them."

New Currents jury member Murali Nair, a director whose "Marana Simhasanam" picked up the prestigious Camera d'Or at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, said just being included in the running for the award could be considered a major achievement.

"It is more than just the award," he said. "It is about turning people's heads towards what you are doing as a filmmaker."

By the time the curtain comes down on the festival, 308 films - 103 of which are world premieres - will have been screened.