Beginningtoday, the Mediterranean city of Malaga transforms itself into the capital ofSpanish cinema for the nine days of the Spanish Film Festival of Malaga (April22-30).

The event kicks off its eighth annual edition Friday withinaugural film Ants In The Mouth by Mariano Barroso. There are fewertitles in this year's official competition but more sidebars and two newindustry-oriented markets.

The official selection this year spans 12 titles, 11 ofwhich compete for prizes topped by the Biznaga de Oro and its Euros 60,000purse. The selection has four features less than last year, a drop festivaldirector Salomon Castiel attributes to lower production levels in Spain.

All except two of the competition titles - Ramon Salazar's 20Centimeters and Argentinean actor Federico Luppi's directorial debut Pasos- will show for international buyers at the Market Screenings, as will thefeature films of the newly expanded ZonaZine competition for new talents andmore experimental films.

A new TV Movie sidebar offers a nod to a genre growing inimportance in Spain and one, Castiel asserts, on which "manyinternationally-renowned directors cut their teeth." The Documentarycompetition includes 18 new features including Rotterdam Tiger Award-winner TheSky Turns (El Cielo Gira) and new productions from the Almodovar brothers'El Deseo and Elias Querejeta.

Malagaalso runs a nonstop schedule of forums, including presentations of new featurefilm projects, topical roundtables, exhibitions and retrospectives. Director CarlosSaura is the subject of one retrospective, while career achievement prizes willgo to actress Veronica Forque and director Gerardo Vera.

Thecompetition line-up includes:

Mariano Barroso's Cuban-set noir thriller Ants In The Mouth (Hormigas En La Boca), the inaugural film; Jose Corbacho and Juan Cruz's ensemble dramedy Tapas; Gerardo Herrera's drama about a woman who takes on the drug trafficking business, Heroine (Heroina); Chus Gutierrez's 1980s-set tale of a girl's rise to music fame, El Calentito; Alexis Valdes' self-directed comedy A King In Havana (Un Rey En La Habana); Federico Luppi's directorial debut, Pasos; Laura Mana's noir comedy To Die In San Hilario (Morir En San Hilario); Pilar Ruiz Gutierrez's small-town tale of a foreign exchange student whose visit deeply affects a family, Alicia's Names (Los Nombres De Alicia); Ines Paris and Daniela Fejerman's My Mother Likes Woman follow-up, romantic comedy Semen: A Love Sample (Semen: Una Historia De Amor); Jose Antonio Vitoria's thriller Vorvik, about a young woman burdened with both an inherited company and the unsolved mystery of her father's death; Ramon Salazar's Stones follow-up, 20 Centimeters (20 Centimetros), about a man who wants to be a woman and dreams up fabulous musical numbers during fits of narcolepsy; and Eros Puglielli's serial killer thriller Eyes Of Crystal (Occhi Di Cristallo), an Italian-Spanish co-production closing the festival out of competition.