Mike Leigh walked away with the Golden Lion at the Venice FilmFestival last night for his latest drama Vera Drake and his leading ladyImelda Staunton won the Volpi Cup for best female performance, a sweetvictory for Vera which was a surprise omission from the competition lineup at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

Meanwhile, theother big winner was Alejandro Amenabar's The Sea Inside (Mar Adentro)which won the Grand Jury Prize and the Volpi Cup for male performance by JavierBardem.

Kim Ki-duk won aspecial award for directing for 3-Iron which was a last minute additionto the competition section of the festival.

The black tie awards ceremony took place for the first time in Venice's gilt-laden opera house, la Fenice, which has just been reopened after five years of restoration.

Leigh, who accepted his award on stage from guest of honour Sophia Loren, said: "Thank you on behalf of my producers and all my comrades who made the film, we thank you profusely and profoundly. It's a great honour. In a cynical world, it is a wonderful thing when serious, committed independent European films are recognized, encouraged and helped to reach their audience."

Leigh added: "Above all I thank the jury for their excellent choice. Finally, I'd like most sincerely to thank the Cannes Film Festival who rejected my film. Thank you Venice."

At the winners press conference that followed the ceremony, Leigh later explained:"I wasn't taking a shot at Cannes." He said Cannes hadn't offered an explanation as to why his film had been rejected. "I can only reflect that my film wasn't good enough for Cannes," he said.

Staunton was also in La Fenice to collect her acting prize. She revealed that ""The second half of the film was the result of a seven hour improvisation that happened two months before we shot the film. If that hadn't happened, I wouldn't have been able to have done what I did in the film."

Jury president John Boorman said that festival director Marco Mueller "had made it very difficult for us. There were too many good films. When occasionally there was a bad one, we were very relieved. It meant we could dismiss it immediately."

The festival is amajor triumph for US distributor Fine Line Features which bought North Americaon Vera Drake in April and all English-speaking territories on TheSea Inside in July. Fine Line, which has been largely inactive for a coupleof years, is launching full Academy Award campaigns for both films.

"It'srejuvenating to a company which people sometimes discount," said Fine Line'sexecutive vice president, marketing, Marion Koltai-Levine in Toronto yesterday."It makes it more satisfying in that we have a continuous relationship withMike Leigh from Naked and Javier Bardem from Before Night Falls."

She said that,regardless of whether The Sea Inside is selected as Spain's Oscarsubmission, Fine Line will mount a broad awards campaign in major categoriessuch as best picture, director and actor.

Meanwhile, Japaneseanimation studio won a special Osella at Venice for Hayao Miyazaki's latestepic Howl's Moving Castle; actors Marco Luisi and Tommaso Ramenghi wonthe Marcello Mastroianni award for their performances in Guido Chiesa's LavorareCon Lentenzza - Radio Alice 100.6 Mhz.

The Luigi DeLaurentiis Award for best first film went to Ismael Ferroukhi for Le GrandVoyage, with a special mention by the first film jury to Francesco Munzi for Saimir.

In the Orizzontisection, Ilan Duran Cohen won the Orizzonti award for Les Petits Fils,while Vincenzo Marra won a special mention for Vento Di Terra. In the CinemaDigitale section, Mania Akbari's 20 Fingers (20 Angosht) won the main prize, with aspecial mention going to Lucio Pellegrini and Gianni Zanasi's La Vita EBreve Ma La Giornata E Lunghissima.

The day after the awards ceremony, Biennale president Davide Croff, the biennale's president, talked down the organisational problems that have plagued the festival since it started. "We wanted to bring the festival back to its glorious days of the past," he said, adding that he was pleased overall of the result. "The content of the festival has been of a very high level. From tomorrow, we will work to ensure that the organisation is more efficient. "

Mueller added: "You learn from the problems you've had."


Fipresci Award
Bestfilm in competition: 3 Iron (Kim Ki-duk)
Best film in other sections: Vento Di Terra (Vincenzo Marra)

Signis Prize
ToutUn Hiver Sans Feu (Greg Zglinski)
Mention to: 3 Iron (Kim Ki-duk)

Gan Award of the publicfor a film in International Critics' Week
VeLakachta Lecha Isha (Ronit & Shlomi Elkabetz)

Isvema Award for a film in International Critics' Week(Sncci)
Ve Lakachta Lecha Isha (Ronit & Shlomi Elkabetz)

Prix Art & Essai (Cicae)
La Femme De Gilles (Frederic Fonteyne)

Arca Cinema GiovaniAward
Bestinternational film about "Spirit of time: a look to the present"
The Sea Inside (Alejandro Amenabar)
Best Italian feature film: Nemmeno Il Destino (Daniele Gaglianone)
Best digital film: Un Silenzio Particolare (Stefano Rulli)

"Lino Micciche" AwardOf the CSC for best first film
NemmenoIl Destino (Daniele Gaglianone)

Fedic Award
VolevoDolo Dormirle Addosso (Eugenio Cappuccio)
Special mention to Un Silenzio Particolare (Stefano Rulli)

Unesco "Fulchignoni"Award
LandOf Plenty(Wim Wenders)

Future Film FestivalDigital Award
Collateral (Michael Mann)

"Sergio Trasatti" Award
TheHouse Keys (Gianni Amelio)

Lanterna Magica Award
FindingNeverland(Marc Forster)

"Lina Mangiacapre"Award
The3 Rooms Of Melancholia (Pirjo Honkasolo)

Human Rights FilmNetwork Award
The3 Rooms Of Melancholia (Pirjo Honkasolo)
Special mention to: Yizo Yizo 3 (Angus Gibson, Andrew Dosunmu &Teboho Mahlatsi)

Eiuc Award
Yesterday (Darrell James Roodt)
Special mention to: The 3 Rooms Of Melancholia (Pirjo Honkasolo)

Leoncino d'Oro (Agiscuola)
3 Iron (Kim Ki-duk)

CinemAvvenire Award
Bestfilm in competition: The House Keys (Gianni Amelio)
Best first feature: Tout Un Hiver Sans Feu (Greg Zglinski)

Award for peace: "Il cerchio non è rotondo. Cinema perla pace e la ricchezza della diversita"
Promised Land (Amos Gitai)

Premio "Francesco Pasinetti" (Sngci)
Best film: The House Keys (Gianni Amelio)
Best innovative film: Vento Di Terra (Vincenzo Marra)
Special Mention to: Come Inguaiammo Il Cinema Italiano. La Vera Storia

Di Franco E Ciccio
Best actor: Kim Rossi Stuart for The House Keys
Best actress: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi for 5x2
Special Mention: cast of La Vita E Breve Ma La Giornata E Lunghissima

Premio Citta di Roma (Arcobaleno Latino)
Un Mundo Menos Peor (Alejandro Agresti)

PremioOpen 2004
Stray Dogs (Marziyeh Meshkini)

Corto Cortissimo Award
Leone d'Argento Citroen: Signe d'appartenance (Kamel Cherif)
Special mention: The Carpenter And His Clumsy Wife (Peter Foott)
UIP Award for Best European short film: Goodbye (Steve Hudson)