Philippines Transit emerges as front-runner for Busan film prize

An emotionally charged drama from the Philippines about migrant families fighting to stay together in Israel has emerged as a front-runner for the top prize at Asia’s premier film festival this week.

“Transit” from first-time director Hannah Espia has made it into the final field in the New Currents competition at the 18th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF).

The film explores the stories of five migrant families who decide to hide their children from authorities in Israel rather than abide by a controversial law  introduced in the country in 2011  which forbids foreign workers from marrying or having children while on contract in the country.

“I wanted to show the lives of children born in foreign lands, and their struggles with identity,” Espia told a press conference.

“The [children] are the new people of the diaspora. They are in a constant search for where they belong,” said Espia, adding that she had been inspired to write the film after a chance meeting with a migrant worker who was bringing his five-month-old son home to live with relatives.

“Transit” has already caused a sensation in the Philippines, whose millions of overseas workers keep the economy afloat with dollar remittances.

Last month it selected the film as its entry for next year’s Academy Awards, after it won the major prize at the influential Cinemalaya festival in August, which celebrates the Philippines’ independent film.

Espia said she was proud that the film was receiving so much attention and that she hoped this would lead to it finding a wider international audience.

The New Currents award offers two prizes of US$30,000 (RM95,680) to first or second-time Asian filmmakers and festival organisers said this year’s final field of 12 drawn from 11 countries  reflected the “realities of Asia”.

That is certainly the case for Mongolian director Byamba Sakhya, who has brought “Remote Control” to Busan.

As the first entrant from his country to make the New Currents short-list, Sakhya said he wanted to use the opportunity to turn the spotlight on to Mongolia, and to inspire young filmmakers to follow the same path.

“Remote Control” is set in an urban tower block and deals with one mans growing obsession with a neighbour.

“To be selected here has encouraged me and hopefully it will encourage others,” he said.

“Our film industry is small, our capital only has four cinemas, but we are growing.

“I wanted to show how our society is in transition  but we still have hope.”

The New Currents award winners will be announced on Saturday, the final day of the festival. The years BIFF is screening more than 300 films from 70 countries