The Hong Kong International Film Festival (HIFF) is introducing three international competition sections to its 27th edition (April 8-23), marking the first time the event has handed out awards.

A section entitled Firebird Awards for Young Cinema will screen 11 first or second productions from new directors, including Blind Shaft, directed by China's Li Yang, Noi Albinoi from Iceland's Dagur Kari and One Night Husband from Thai director Pimpaka Towira. In the Asian DV Competition, eight digital films from young directors will compete for two awards.

An international jury comprising five world-renowned film personalities will select the winners of both sections.

The third competition section - Humanitarian Awards for Documentaries - will be judged by three professionals from the worlds of documentary filmmaking or journalism.

The festival, organised for the second year running by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, also announced that PTU (pictured), from Hong Kong director Johnnie To, and Twilight Samurai, directed by Japan's Yamada Yoji, will open this year's event. The closing films are Spike Jonze's Adaptation and Cala, My Dog!, a mainland production starring Ge You.

Almost 300 films from some 40 countries will screen during the 16-day event. Films screening in the Gala Presentation section include The Best Of Times, from Taiwan's Chang Tso-Chi, acclaimed Brazilian feature City Of God, Last Scene, from Japan's Nakata Hideo, Stephen Frears' Dirty Pretty Things and Venice Golden Lion winner The Magdalene Sisters, directed by Peter Mullan. Kitano Takeshi's Dolls, Ken Loach's Sweet Sixteen and David Cronenberg's Spider are among the films selected for the Master Class section.

The Hong Kong Panorama includes Fruit Chan's Public Toilet, box office smash Infernal Affairs and Golden Chicken, directed by Samson Chiu, amongst others.

The filmmaker in focus will be Jeff Lau (A Chinese Odyssey, All For The Winner). Other highlights include the Indie Power and Midnight Heat sections and retrospectives of the work of Japanese director Ozu Yasujiro and Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers studio.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum, a three-day project co-production market set to take place at the same time as the film festival (April 7-9), announced that it has selected 24 projects to participate in this year's event.

Among the shortlist will be new projects from filmmakers such as Hong Kong's Teddy Chen, Fruit Chan and Mabel Cheung, Taiwan's Tsai Ming-Liang, Chang Tso-Chi and Chen Yi-Wen, Korea's Kim In-Sik, Jang Sun-Woo and E J-Yong and Thailand's Nonzee Nimibutr. The full list of projects will be unveiled later this week.

In addition, the Hong Kong Film Awards will take place just prior to the festival, on April 6, as part of an attempt to co-ordinate Hong Kong's major film events. Only the Hong Kong International Film & TV Market (Filmart) is not involved and will continue to take place in June.