South Korea’s Kim Ki-duk has won Australia’s richest documentary award with Arirang, six months after taking the top prize in Un Certain Regard at Cannes.

The criteria for the $25,000 BIFFDOCS Award was to be entertaining, provoking, surprising and disturbing; the prolific director turned the camera on himself in Arirang.

BIFFDOCS was introduced into the Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF) this year by BIFF director Richard Moore, Melbourne International Film Festival director up until last year.

Another Moore initiative was to draw on the knowledge of guest curators. This year there were programs of films recommended by Tim League, director of Fantastic Fest in the US; by Rocio Garcia, artistic director of La Mirada festival; and by Paris-based programmer Sandra Reid, celebrating 50 years of Critics Week at Cannes. Moore intends to continue to forge alliances with other festivals.

Up until 2010, Brisbane’s festival was held mid-year, around the same time as Sydney and Melbourne’s. Moore didn’t drive the move to November but being out of the east coast cluster has enabled him to stage more Australian premieres. This year 50 of the 135 films in the programme had not been screened previously and among the sell-outs were director Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Drake Doremus’s Sundance grand jury prize winner Like Crazy, David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method and Tusi Tamasese’s The Orator, the first feature ever made in Samoa. (Another Australian festival, Adelaide’s, is also moving: come 2013 the biennial event will run in October instead of January/February).

Also very popular were the drive-in sessions: Kriv Stender’s local hit Red Dog, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive and Madeleine Olnek’s Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same were among the films patrons saw from their cars. Home-grown films also sold well including the thriller Crawl, a debut from Queensland brothers Paul and Benjamin China.

The 20th BIFF closed on the weekend with one of the stand-out sessions being Spanish master Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In, followed by a party featuring an 11-piece salsa band. The opening night film on November 3 was Joe Cornish’s UK comedy Attack the Block.

Moore told that attendances were up as much as 20% on last year, but the figure he particularly revelled in was that 64% of patrons had not purchased festival tickets previously via an online account. Some of them could have bought tickets with cash in the past, however, so may not have represented new business.

The four Australian documentaries in the running for the BIFFDOCS prize were Trouble With St Mary’s from director Peter Hegedus, On Borrowed Time, veteran David Bradbury’s portrait of auteur director Paul Cox, Fantome Island, Sean Gilligan’s examination of a leper colony off the coast of Townsville, and Dancing With Dictators, Hugh Piper’s examination of Australian newspaper editor Ross Dunkley, who was recently released from incarceration by the Burmese Government.