West Of Tracks, (pictured) an acclaimed 9-hour documentary about the decay of an industrial city in Northeast China, emerged a triumphant winner at the 2003 Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival in Japan.

Well-received US documentary Stevie by Steve James, director of the Oscar-nominated Hoop Dreams (1994), took home the festival's second-ranked award, the Prize of Excellence.

Held once every two years, the YIDFF has gained a reputation as one of the most innovative and respected documentary film festivals since its debut in 1989. Divided into two major parts - the International Competition and the New Asian Currents sections - the event also featured an extensive retrospective devoted to images of the territory of Okinawa, and smaller sections devoted to the Newsreel documentary movement of the 1960s and 70s and New Japanese Documentaries.

West of Tracks, the debut work of independent Chinese director Wang Bing, was hailed by jury members and festival guests for its harrowing and engaging take on workers struggling to survive in a crumbling city. "It is perhaps the first time that a filmmaker has made full use of new light and portable equipment to imagine a project that is truly innovative in its shooting conditions, and in its cinematographic language," noted the jury in a statement.

Another Chinese film, Wellspring by Sha Qing about a boy with cerebral palsy in a rural village, took home the top award in the New Asian Currents section.

Nonetheless some controversy surrounded the awarding of the FIPRESCI Award to hard-hitting Chinese/US documentary Three-Five People, about 12-year old children addicted to heroin. Detractors claimed the work "lacked basic sympathy for its subjects" and "was one of the weakest selections in a very strong section."

2003 Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival

Grand Prize
Tie Xi Qu: West Of Tracks (China), dir. Wang Bing

Prize of Excellence
Stevie (US), dir. Steve James

Runner-up Prizes (2)
Gift Of Life (Taiwan), dir. Wu Yii-feng
S21, The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (France), dir. Rithy Panh

Special Prize
Purity (Israel), dir. Anat Zuria

New Asian Currents Grand Prize
Wellspring (China), dir. Sha Qing

Awards of Excellence
Hard Good Life (Taiwan), dir. Hsu Hui-ju
The Old Man Of Hara (Iran), dir. Mahvash Sheikholeslami

Special Mentions
The Big Durian (Malaysia), dir. Amir Muhammad
A Short Journey (Thailand), dir. Tanon Sattarujawong

Citizen's Prize
Purity (Israel), dir. Anat Zuria

Three-Five People (China/US), dir. Li Lin

FIPRESCI Special Mention
A Short Journey (Thailand), dir. Tanon Sattarujawong