Anna Melikyan's quirky coming of age tale Mermaid (Rusalka), which was the opening film of the Berlinale's Panorama last month, was the winner of this year's Grand Prix at the Sofia International Film Festival, the second time in three years that the top prize went to a Russian filmmaker (Alexei German Jr.'s Garpastum won in 2006).

The International Jury, composed solely of film directors and headed by veteran Dutch filmmaker Jos Stelling, gave its Special Jury Award to Threes Anna's The Bird Can't Fly and the Best Director Award to Serbia's Stefan Arsenijevic for his feature debut Love And Other Crimes.

The Jameson Short Film Award for Best Bulgarian Short Film went to Petar Valchanov for Family Therapy and the No Man's Land Award for Best Balkan Film to Cristian Mungiu's Golden Palm-winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days.

Meanwhile, Stefan Komanderev's Bulgarian-German-Slovenian-Hungarian co-production The World Is Big And Salvation Lurks Around The Corner, picked up two prizes - the Kodak Award for Best Bulgarian Feature Film and the Audience Award - after its Bulgarian gala premiere during the festival.

Komanderev's feature debut had been presented at previous editions of Connecting Cottbus, the Netherlands Production Platform and the Sofia Meetings, among others, and will be released theatrically later in the year in Bulgaria by Art Fest.

At the awards ceremony on Saturday evening, The World Is Big's lead actor Miki Manojlovic from Serbia and screenwriting legend Jean-Claude Carriere (Ulzhan) were both presented with the Sofia Municipality Award for Outstanding Achievements in Cinema, an honour also bestowed during the festival week to Russia's Nikita Mikhalkov and Bulgarian director and film school professor Vladislav Ikonomov.

In addition, the International Critics FIPRESCI Prize was awarded to Bulgarian director Lyudmil Todorov's local box-office success Seamstresses.

Meanwhile, the parallel fifth Sofia Meetings saw 12 projects being presented in the Second Films Pitching lineup and a further ten in a new additional programme of debut and third feature projects to potential co-producers, funders and sales agents.

Lithuanian producer Ieva Norviliene told that her company Tremora had attracted Germany's Dagstar Film and Galway-based DIG Productions onboard Ignas Miskinis's Euros 800,000 second feature Low Lights which plans to shoot in Vilnius from August. Theatrical distribution is in place for the three Baltic states and funding has come from the Irish Film Board.

DIG Productions and the Irish Film Board are also partners on the omnibus film Some Other Stories which Nenad Dukic's Belgrade-based SEE Film is preparing with five female directors from former Yugoslavia, Ivona Juka (Croatia), Marija Dzidzeva (Macedonia), Hanna Slak (Slovenia), Ines Tanovic (Bosnia & Herzegovina), and Ana Maria Rossi (Serbia).

During the Sofia Meetings, Dukic revealed that the project, which will deal with the problems of today's youth against the background of the consequences of war, has also attracted Austria's Kranzelbinder Gabriele Production (KGP) to join the other co-producers 4 Film (Zagreb), Skopje Film Studio, Dokument (Sarajevo) and Studio Maj (Ljubljana).

Moreover, Sofia's festival director and leading Bulgarian producer Stefan Kitanov reported that his company RFF International will be embarking on its third collaboration - after Dusan Milic's Gucha and Stefan Komanderev's The World Is Big And Salvation Lurks Around The Corner - with Austria's Aichholzer Film, producer of the Oscar-winning The Counterfeiters, and Germany's Pallas Film with Maya Vitkova's feature debut Queen Viktoria.

RFF will be a minority partner on the short film project Take Two by Nadejda Koseva which will be produced with Cologne-based Herbert Schwering's Coin Film. Koseva was one of the directors of the 2005 Lost & Found with fellow filmmakers Cristian Mungiu, Jasmila Zbanic, Mait Laas, Stefan Arsenijevic and Kornel Mundruczo. The omnibus film was produced by Schwering's Icon Film.

At the end of the two days of project presentations, the Sofia Meetings participants voted for the best pitches in the two programmes. Romania's Ada Solomon of Hi Film Productions received the most votes for her presentation of Calin Peter Netzer's comedy Medal Of Honor in the Main Programme, while Bulgarian producer Rossitsa Valkanova of Klas Film was regarded to have given the best pitch in the Additional Programme for Iglika Trifonova's third feature False Witness, based on a true case from the International War Crimes Tribunal for former Yugoslavia.