(BUSAN, South Korea-AFP) - Organizers of Asia's largest film festival defended their decision to air a controversial film on the South Korean ferry tragedy as the event, visited by a record number of people, drew to a close Saturday.

The world premiere of the Korean documentary "Diving Bell" (or "The Truth Shall Not Sink with Sewol") cast a long shadow at the 10-day 19th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF).

The film questions rescue operations -- and the use of the piece of equipment from which it takes its title -- during the Sewol ferry tragedy in April that claimed more than 300 lives, the majority of them schoolchildren.

"People were just voicing their opinions," said festival head Lee Yong-kwan Saturday of the controversy. "Once we made the decision [to screen the film] we had to be responsible for the decion."

Organisers reportedly came under pressure from local politicians, including the Busan mayor, to withdraw the film from the programme due to its sensitive nature.

A group of Korean directors also staged a press conference during the festival at which they called for an official inquiry into the tragedy.

Overall, BIFF drew a record audience of 226,473 people who watched more than 300 films, among them 96 world premieres.

But "Diving Bell" remained the hot topic throughout the event.

The festival's decision to screen the film drew praise from Oscar-nominated American documentary maker Joshua Oppenheimer ("The Act of Killing"), who picked up the Busan Cinephile Award -- voted on by local film students -- for his follow-up "The Look of Silence".

"If they hadn't, this film festival would have gone down in shame and notoriety," said Oppenheimer, who dedicated his award to those "pursuing freedom and justice, and also to the Indonesian people of the tragedy".

Both "The Act of Killing" and "The Look of Silence" focus on mass killings of people accused of being communists in Indonesia in the 1960s.

Korean, Iranian films take top award

Meanwhile, films focusing on family issues in Korea and Iran shared the top award at BIFF.

"End of Winter" from Kim Daehwan and "13" from Hooman Seyedi will be handed the two US$30,000 prizes given for the New Currents award for first- or second-time Asian filmmakers when the festival draws to a close later Saturday.

New Currents jury head and the Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi ("A Separation") said "End of Winter" was a unanimous choice by the jury. The film is a tale of how a family deals with a shock announcement from their father.

"[It] impressed us with its stylistic consistency, it skilful exploration of family relations, its elegant mastery of cinematic space, and its great ensemble cast," said Farhadi.

The Iranian production "13" - which shows how a young boy copes after being driven from the family home - showed "inventive camerawork" and "dynamism", Farhadi said.

Farhadi said the films he had seen across a festival -- which states its mission is to "discover new directors" -- had shown the future of Asian cinema was in good hands.

The acclaimed director encouraged all the filmmakers in the region to continue making "honest films".

Korean director Hong Seok-jae's "Socialphobia" also drew attention from critics and fans alike.

A fictionalised account of cyber bullying and internet addiction, contentious issues in Korea and across Asia, it won two awards, including one handed out by the Directors Guild of Korea.

BIFF will officially end later Saturday with the world premiere of "Gangster Pay Day", a Hong Kong gangster film that laments what its director cites as a loss of "traditional values" in his city.

Lee Po-cheung's film focuses on the everyday tribulations of an ageing gang leader (played by veteran Anthony Wong), and the director said he wanted to steer clear of the violence normally associated with such films, instead focusing on "bonds between people".