Festival favourite The Story Tellers (Narradores De Jave) by Elianne Caffe nabbed four major prizes at the Rio International Film Festival which wrapped Thursday, October 9.

The comedy revolves around a Brazilian village which invents a local history in order to gain national heritage status and avoid being demolished by a pending hydroelectric dam project.

Aside from winning the Premiere Brazil best feature award, Story Tellers won the audience award as well as a best actor prize for Jose Dummont. It also took home the Casablanca Award for best feature which includes a supply of 100 tins of negative film (16 or 35 mm.)

Documentaries, widely regarded as superior to the fiction features this year, swept the awards. The Jury vote for best documentary went to Elvardo Mocarzel's On The Fringes Of Sao Paulo: Homeless (A Margem Da Imagem), a searing look at the homeless of Sao Paulo.

Guilherme Coelho's ode to Brazilian rap, Living Rap In Rio (Fala Tu), earned the best director and audience awards. Paulo Sacramento's Prisoner Of The Iron Bars (O Prisoneiro de Grade de Ferro) filmed by the inmates of the infamous Carandiru Detention centre before its demolition, received the Special Jury Prize.

For the first time, exhibitor Cinemark gave out cash awards to the best fiction feature ($10,000), documentary ($7,000) and short ($3,500).

On the business side, Brazilian distributors picked up local rights to some 20 titles including Wolfgang Becker's Goodbye, Lenin! and Gabriele Muccino's Remember Me.

Festival do Rio, which kicked off September 25th, also served as the launchpad of the International Institute for Cinema and Audiovisual, an EU backed initiative aimed at improving returns for independents in the world market. Within days of putting the scheme into play, it's chair, Italian film industry executive Sandro Silvestri announced the closure of distribution deals in the Latin market for five Italian films screening at the festival. (see separate story on ScreenDaily.com)

The festival's parallel event, the Rio Screenings and Seminars market also noted a marked increase in business. Co director Iafa Britz recorded a 'dramatic jump in numbers of industry executives participating - an almost threefold increase. In 2002 an average of 40 participants attended each panel; in 2003 this figure rose to 100. In the Market, over 230 critics and buyers registered to view tapes and DVDs of 200 new Brazilian productions, compared with a figure of 56 in the previous year. The festival boasts an estimated 28.6% increase over last year in terms of admissions.

"One of the festival's objectives is to improve the interchange of Latin American films within the region," said co director/programmer Ilda Santiago. "We have been inviting more representatives from across the region, both filmmakers and buyers," she added.