THAILAND - Nawapol's low-budget "36", an experimental feature, won the New Currents award at the Busan festival on Saturday. He shared the prize with Lebanese Maryam Najafi's drama "Kayan".
Both will return home with an award worth US$30,000 (S$37,000), on offer to first or second-time Asian filmmakers.
"This award will bring me a brighter future as an independent filmmaker, Nawapol said told The Nation via Facebook from Busan.
"The award will help me continue filming new low-budget projects like '36'. It will give me a window to the other prominent film festivals. I had a great experience at the Busan Film Festival, where I learnt about this prominent festival. Here many professional filmmakers shared their thoughts via films. The New Current awards are devoted to new faces and encourage young filmmakers like me," he said.
His film "36" - made for just Bt600,000 (S$24,000) - is set around 36 static images and tells the story of a young woman who struggles to relate to her memories.
"The first time I screened this film was in a conference room for about 20 people, so I was honoured to be invited to Busan," he said on the award night in Korea.
"My story is about how many different ways there are to look at the way we live our lives."
Veteran Hungarian director Bela Tarr, head of the jury for the New Currents awards, praised Nawapol's work for creating his "own film language".
"The jury found especially that the writing was breathtaking, artful, economic, and never included an unnecessary word," they said in a statement.
Nawapol graduated with a degree in Chinese from the Faculty of Arts at Chulalongkorn University. He started making short films with a learning-by-doing approach during his years at university. In 2006 his experimental documentary "See" gained success by winning two awards in a film competition in Thailand. In 2007, he attended the Berlinale's Talent Campus. His groundbreaking 2008 drama "A Paralysed Circus" premiered at Bangkok's World Film Festival.
"I'm now working on a new studio production with GTH and also doing a new independent film with Pop Pictures," he revealed.
There was praise also for first-time director Najafi's sympathetic portrayal of a Lebanese woman trying to juggle the twin demands of business and a family in a foreign country and the filmmaker's ability "to go from emotion to analysis in the acute portrait of a woman fighting to keep a new life going".
Najafi said: "We did everything you are not supposed to do with this film - from using child actors to borrowing sets - but we persevered."
The 10-day Busan festival closes on Saturday with the official awards presentation and the world premiere of Bangla-deshi filmmaker Mostofa Sarwar Farooki's comic drama "Television", which focuses on a clash of generations in a rural village.