A drama about a gay teenager with a disability who changes into the body of a beautiful woman so that he can find love has become the first Australian film to win a $US20,000 prize at Korea’s Busan International Film Festival.

Pulse is the debut feature from the director, producer and cinematographer Stevie Cruz-Martin and writer, producer and editor Daniel Monks, who plays the lead.

The film screened in the Flash Forward section which aims to discover cineastes and create buzz among the young film generation, where it was the most highly rated by festival audiences.

Thus it won the BNK Busan Bank award prize, of which $US10,000 goes to the director (shared with Monks) and the rest will be used to support the distribution of the film in Korea.

“We were very shocked and extremely excited to take out this award and very humbled by the entire experience,” Cruz-Martin tells IF before flying home.

“We have been blown away by the support of the Korean audiences here, especially considering their conservative views on disability and LGBTIQA+ communities.

“After each of our three screenings in Busan many of the audience members told us how important a film like Pulse was for Korea; there is clearly a hunger for this kind of material and that really excites Daniel and myself.”

Stevie Cruz-Martin and Daniel Monks with their award.

The producers, who include Gemma Hall, are discussing distribution options in Australia while international sales are being handled by Oration Films.

The film premiered as part of the Screenability strand of the Sydney Film Festival and also played at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival.

The plot follows Monks as Olly, a gay high school student who has early onset of osteoporosis. He gets a shock when his straight best friends Luke (Scott Lee) and Nat (Sian Ewers) start dating each other.

When he learns that he needs a hip operation, he jumps at the chance to undergo an experimental body transplant operation and morphs into the new female body of Olivia (Jaimee Peasley), setting into motion a series of events.

Haps Korea magazine’s Darragh Walsh lauded Monks’ “astonishing, arresting” performance, the chemistry between Lee, Ewers and Isaro Kayitesi as his best friends and a heartbreaking turn by Caroline Brazier as his mother.

Walsh declared: “It’s surely significant that a movie so steeped in LGBT issues won an audience award in a country that, at a political and legal level, gives no recognition to the rights or acceptance of the people in this community.

“It’s clear that writer and star Daniel Monks put his heart and soul right onto the screen for all to see, which must be commended in any artistic pursuit, let alone when it’s as well-executed as it is here.

“‘Pulse is a brave, thought-provoking piece of filmmaking and storytelling and a movie with a real beating heart at its core.”

An AFTRS graduate, Monks was a finalist for the 2017 Heath Ledger Scholarship. Last year he was accepted as a screenwriter into Screen NSW’s inaugural Screenability internship program designed to create opportunities in the screen industries for people with disabilities.

The producers raised about $24,000 on crowd-funding site Pozible and the rest of the budget from private investors and deferrals from cast and crew. “We could not have made this film without the support and love of these kind souls,” Cruz-Smith said.

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