The CairoInternational Film Festival (CIFF) closed on Friday with a beefed-up awardsceremony that featured new competitions for Arab feature films and digitalfilmmaking, aimed at promoting emerging talent. The $10,000 first prize in thedigital competition went to Italian director Carlo Luglio'sSotto la StessaLuna (Beneath The Same Moon). As expected, theinternational jury, led by Argentinian director Luis Puenzo, awarded the Golden Pyramid to Zhang Jiarui's TheRoad, an epic covering 50 years of Chinese political history.

Local d=irector Hala Khalil's Cut and Paste was also deservedly aclear winner, sharing the Best Arab Film prize with DjamilaSahraoui's Algerian-French production Barakat!, and also taking the Naguib Mahfouz prize for second features, in the year thatthe festival was dedicated to the late novelist and Nobel Laureate. Both filmsgo on to compete in Dubai International Film Festival's inaugural Muhr Awards for Arab Cinema.

Despite Latin America being CIFF's "guest of honour", the continent only picked up two awards: the FIPRESCI for Mexican director Patricia Arriaga Jordan's La ultima Mirada (The Last Gaze) and Best Actor for Argentinian Nicholas Mateo, for his role in La Velocidad Funda el Olvido (Speed Begets Oblivion), both favourites among local critics. Shawkat Amin Korki's first feature Crossing the Dust, set in Iraqi Kurdistan - and intriguingly programmed in the 'Controversial Films' section -- also created some buzz.

The CIFF was upbeat in its thirtieth year. New president, chisel-faced actor Ezzat Abu Auf, and honorary president, local legend Omar Sharif, played a part in bringing on board new sponsors, principally Naguib Sawiris's Orascom and Mobinil telecoms companies, reportedly raising the budget by $1 million. Unusually, in this chaotic city, most of the screenings began on time and, as ever, the festival's relaxed hospitality was second to none. Long-standing Vice President Soheir Abdel-Kader teamed up with FIAPF director general Valerie Lepine-Karnik to stage a day-long conference on anti-piracy which, estimates producer Dr Mohamed El Adle, currently costs the local industry around $800,000 per film. Following impassioned debate, the delegates presented a ten-point action plan to the Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosni.

With the exception of Khalil's compelling, subtly political Cut and Paste, the Egyptian films in competition were disappointing romantic melodramas but, in general, the local industry is buoyed by increased investment and improved box office receipts. The Egyptian "dream factory" is alive and well, with most films featuring gorgeous young couples living the good life. It's rare to see a woman in hijab in the movies - although commentators estimate that 70% of Egyptian women now adopt the Islamic headscarf.

The Arab world's oldest festival faces tough competition, sandwiched between chic Marrakech, patronised by French and US stars, and big-budget Dubai, now offering $325,000 in prize money for Arab films. The United Arab Emirates has become the region's distribution base and, with its growing expatriate population and new multiplexes, now takes 65% of the box office for foreign films - stymied in Egypt by quotas favouring local productions. Set on screening world and international premieres in competition, CIFF officials admitted that they find it hard to compete: the festival brought back its market for the first time in several years, but it was a lacklustre affair and mid-festival, washed out by torrential rain. Their quest for international hidden gems is no doubt also hampered by the censorship committee - which saw Marc Ellegard's Burning Light, among other films, "uninvited" from the festival in November.

Still, the CIFF has an easy charm, boosted by confident young directors and their stars, and an established identity grounded in the local industry. Like Cairo and the films the city inspires, the festival also has no shortage of drama. Unusually in the region, press screenings attract a feisty pack of local critics set on debating the films with directors and producers. The festival may be entering middle age, but it certainly still has a spring in its step.

Awards in full:
International Competition
Best Film, The Golden Pyramid
The Road (China), 2006, Zhang Jiarui
The Special Jury Prize, The Silver Pyramid
Sankara (Sri Lanka), 2006, Prasanna Jayakody
Best Director
Khosro Masoumi (Iran), for Somewhere too Far, 2006
Special Mention
Actor Fan Wei for The Road (China), 2006, Zhang Jiarui
Best Artistic Contribution for Music, Cinematography & Art Direction
Omkara (India), 2006, Vishal Bharadwaj
Saad El-Din Wahba Prize for Best Script
Judit Elek (Hungary), for The Eighth Day of the Week, 2006
Best Actor
Nicholas Mateo (Argentina) for La Velocidad Funda el Olvido (Speed begets oblivion), 2006
Best Actress
Zhang Jingchu (China), for The Road, 2006
Naguib Mahfouz Prize for Best Second Feature
Hala Khalil (Egypt), for Cut and Paste, 2006
Best Arab Film
Barakat! (Algeria - France), 2006, Djamila Sahraoui
Cut and Paste (Egypt), 2006, Hala Khalil
The International Critics Prize FIPRESCI Prize
La ultima Mirada (The Last Gaze), 2006, Patricia Arriaga Jordon
Digital Films Prizes
Golden Award: Sotto la Stessa Luna (Beneath The Same Moon) (Italy), 2005, Carlo Luglio
Silver Award: Everything (U.K), 2004, Richard Hawkins