The third BahamasInternational Film Festival (BIFF) wrapped on Dec 10 with local residentsNicolas Cage and Sean Connery lending very vocal support to expanding theevent. Cage, who recently joined Connery as a Bahamian homeowner, was thesubject of the festival's Chopard career achievement award.

"I want to bring in people I know in the industry to hopefullystimulate conversations between the older, seasoned talent with the young,hungry talent that's displayed here," Cage said. He pledged his support of BIFFin the future, noting that he'd like to approach a workshop model like RobertRedford's at Sundance.

"I don't know how togolf, I don't gamble, I'm here because I love the colour of the water and Ilike the Bahamian spirit," Cage said. The actor and director has donebigger-budget work recently, including National Treasure and its forthcoming sequel and Ghost Rider, but he said: "We have to encourage ourselves tokeep our independent voice alive."

Connery, his co-star in TheRock, presented the award and alsovoiced his support for the festival and its founder, Leslie Vanderpool. Hecalled for local government support to build "a home for the festival, abase" and said he thought the four-day event could expand into a 10-dayfestival eventually.

This year's festival winnerswere the Spirit Of Freedom narrative prize to Israel Adrian Caetano's ChroniclesOf An Escape (Cronica de una fuga),the Sprit Of Freedom documentary prize to Ronit Avni & Julia Bacha's EncounterPoint, the New Visions award to RyanFleck's Half Nelson (with aspecial mention to Pete Chatmon's Premium). The audience awards went to Johnny Slade's Greatest Hits directed by Larry Blamire, and EleutheranAdventure by local film-maker KareemMortimer.

The third BIFF hostedscreenings of 50 narrative features, documentaries and shorts. The festivalopened with Susanne Bier's After The Wedding and closed with Allen Coulter's Hollywoodland.

Cage also attended BIFF'sretreat for local and international film-makers on the eve of the event. Hesaid chatting with aspiring local film-makers had inspired him. "You'vegot great talent here," he said. "It's stimulating to have that kindof energy around me."

Executive directorVanderpool said support from powerful industry players like Cage would help theevent and the Bahamian film industry grow. "We have the opportunity toeducate and stimulate new career opportunities to the talented peoplehere," she said. "It's starting another industry in theBahamas." She said the next step would be to establish a year-round filmsociety and work on establishing a venue for the society and festival.

The islands have hosted anumber of international productions, including recent shoots for James Bondfilm Casino Royale and BrettRatner's After The Sunset. Thelocal industry is also growing with the establishment of the new Bahamas FilmStudio, including the largest open-water tank in the Western Hemisphere.

Guests of the festivalincluded actress Molly Parker, directors Anders Thomas Jensen and Ryan Fleck,producers Molly Mayeaux and Ted Hope, Rajendra Roy from the Hamptons andBerlinale festivals, Zeitgeist Films co-president Emily Russo and Shoreline'sMorris Ruskin.