Japanese director Fukasaku Kinji's Battle Royale, Swedish debutant filmmaker Josef Fares' comedy Jalla! Jalla! and Juan Pablo Rebella's dry-humoured slacker drama 25 Watts from Uruguay are among the buzz films on festival guests' lips at the 30th Rotterdam International Film Festival this week.

"I received phone calls from Sundance from people asking if I could reserve tickets for them to Battle Royale," CineMart coordinator Ido Abram noted of Kinji's hard-hitting drama about a school class being brought to a desert island and pitted against each other until only one pupil is left.

Meanwhile, Jalla! Jalla! had to have an extra screening programmed to cater for the flurry of interest from distributors. The film was picked up for Italy by Lucky Red and Benelux by Upstream Pictures, but German distributors baulked at an alleged asking price of $400,000 for German rights.

As of Tuesday, Jan 30, Jalla! Jalla! was the clear audience favourite at the festival - heading the Top 40 for the Canal Plus Audience Prize. It was followed by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Princess And The Warrior and Indian film Hey! Ram.

With 2,500 industry professionals - 300 up on last year - in attendance, the festival had moved this year to the more roomier surroundings of the Doelen concert and exhibition centre opposite the Pathe multiplex.

As festival director Simon Field pointed out, "the new venue brings the festival onto a completely new plane". It also reconfirmed Rotterdam's reputation as one of the more user-friendly of film festivals.

Celebrating its 18th year, this year's edition of the CineMart co-production gathering - with projects by such directors as Germany's Philip Groening, UK actor-director Peter Mullan, Tajikistan's Baktiar Khoudoinazarov, Hong Kong's Fruit Chan and Iceland's Dagi Kuri Peterson - kept the number of projects being pitched down to 42 as part of an anti-inflationary strategy adopted two years ago. "We could have easily selected 60," Abram noted. "But we want to let each project get the sufficient amount of attention from potential partners. We scheduled even more one-to-one meetings - over 4,000 - than ever before."

In addition, the CineMart is to be extended to a virtual year-round event through the creation of a dedicated web-site - www.cinemartonline.com - which will go live on February 5. The site will only be accessible to film industry professionals accredited to the Cinemart.

Introducing this new tool, to help projects find financing more effectively, festival co-director Sandra den Hamer explained that it will initially include details of this year's line-up of Cinemart projects and will be updated regularly when companies submit information about the latest state of their projects' financing. In addition, the Cinemart's organisers will develop a magazine section on the web-site featuring interviews with Cinemart participants.