Over 500 films were screened at Havana's 24th Festival of New Latin American Cinema, confirming the pre-eminence of Brazil and Argentina in the region.

Fernardo Meireilles' magnificent epic City of God shared the top prize, the Premio Coral, with Diego Lerman's sparkling debut, Suddenly. These two films, along with A Red Bear, Minimal Stories and Common Places, all from Argentina, also mopped up most of the other awards.

Other countries fared less well: Uruguay's Oscar contending comedy, Heart of Fire, got the thumbs down from critics (though not from Cuban audiences), while all three Chilean films in competition were viewed as feeble.

Technical glitches prevented Cuban features flagged in the catalogue, including Fernando Perez's hotly tipped Suite Havana, from being ready in time to compete. But the national presence could be seen in a bevy of documentaries about the country, by both Cuban and overseas directors. Buzz focussed on La Tropical, about the colourful characters frequenting Havana's oldest and most famous night-club, directed by the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer David Turnley, and Balseros, about seven Cubans who set sail for Miami in 1994 on flimsy rafts.

Among the Latin luminaries seen sipping mojitos on the terrace of the Hotel Nacional, Havana's elegant flagship hotel facing the imperialist enemy across the Straits of Florida, were Argentine stars Gaston Pauls (best known internationally from the heist hit Nine Queens) and Federico Luppi. Luppi, whose trademark silver moustache graced no fewer than three of the competition films, received an honorary career award, while Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez lent the festival a touch of literary gravitas.

The North American contingent included Matt Dillon, Marisa Tomei, and Danny Glover, who, along with Havana regular Harry Belafonte, used the occasion to fire a broadside against the current warmongering back home. Presenting Frida, Julie Taymor somewhat embarrassingly admitted she was not familiar with Jury President Paul Ledeuc's own 1983 film on the Mexican artist.

But the last word went to Roman Polanski, who came to present The Pianist at the closing night on 13 December. He revealed with characteristic irony that he had recently had the occasion to re-view some of his own early films and had come to the conclusion that certain of them were very promising.