Spanish film Mondays In The Sun took the top prize at the 50th anniversary of the San Sebastian International Film Festival (Sept 19-28), which ended Saturday night with a series of applauded, if not anticipated, prizes.

Mondays In The Sun (Los Lunes Al Sol)was a favourite even before the festival began, as one of the few world premieres at an event which serves as a showcase for Spanish and Latin American product and talent. However, Sun lead Javier Bardem was overlooked for an equally-anticipated best actor prize in one of the few surprise decisions from the competition jury, presided over by Wim Wenders.

Wenders went so far as to address Bardem during the closing ceremony when he suggested that the Golden Shell (Concha de Oro) for Sun recognised all the contributing elements of the film. "I don't have to tell you, Javier, what you signify for this film," Wenders said in seeming apology.

Instead the best actor prize went to Lui Peiqi for Chinese film Together (Han Ni Zai Yiki), which also took home the best director award for Chen Kaige (pictured). Russian title The Lover (Lubovnik) won best photography for Sergey Mikhalchuk and best script for Gennadiy Ostrovskiy, the latter prize shared with Argentine duo Adolfo Aristarain and Katy Saavedra for Common Places (Lugares Comunes).

Common Places also won the best actress award for veteran Spanish performer Mercedes Sampietro, who dedicated the prize to the Argentinean people "suffering an unbearable injustice right now." Argentina's Minimal Stories (Historias Minimas), a modest film from director Carlos Sorin which was completed thanks to the San Sebastian-Toulouse joint funds-seeking initiative: Cinema In Progress (Cine En Construccion), was awarded a special jury prize "for having captivated all the members of the jury."

The New Director prize went to the Czech Republic's Alice Nellis for Some Secrets (Vylet), with special mentions for Hungary's Gyorgy Palfi for Hukkle and Korea's Lee Jung-Hyang for The Way Home (Jibeuro).

Among the well-received competition films which went home empty-handed were Danish Dogme title Open Hearts (Elsker Dig For Evigt), Niki Caro's Whale Rider and Mexican box office hit The Crime Of Father Amaro (El Crimen Del Padre Amaro).

In the parallel Zabaltegi section, Michael Moore documentary Bowling For Columbine was the audience choice for the Pearl of the Public Prize, and Patricia Cardoso's crowd-pleaser Real Women Have Curves won the Youth Prize. Finally, the US's Peter Sollet won the Made In Spanish prize for Raising Victor Vargas, with a special mention for Ana Katz's Musical Chairs (El Juego De La Silla).

As witnessed by both the program and prizes, San Sebastian is more than ever a showcase for Spanish and Latin American talent. An increased international interest in the region fuelled what may have been the festival's biggest industry turn-out ever.

"There was much more movement and greater interest in Spanish-language cinema," confirmed Alicia Luna, director of the festival's fledgling Sales Office, pointing specifically to buyer interest in Mondays In The Sun, Minimal Stories, Common Places, Real Women Have Curves and The Crime Of Padre Amaro.

"I think San Sebastian is a great festival for Latin product and has become specialised in that over the years," said Santiago Pozo, CEO of LA-based Arenas Entertainment, the new Latin-focused production-distribution house backed by Universal. "It's also an important place where the Spanish industry can see each other."

The Sales Office serviced some 60 companies, about twice as many as in previous years. Top-level executives were on hand from companies such as Sony Pictures Classics and Columbia TriStar, Focus Entertainment, HBO, Pony Canyon, Miramax, TF1, and many more.

"We are encountering a lot of interest from people and advancing deals, which is not very common in San Sebastian," said Jose Vicuna, president of Grupo Prisa-backed production house Plural Entertainment, which signed worldwide rights on three feature films to Kevin Williams Associates including San Sebastian title The Suit (El Traje).

"Spanish-language films give San Sebastian power over other festivals and leads to peoples' interest in squeezing it into their schedules around other festivals," said new Sogepaq deputy director of distribution Simon de Santiago, who added that several executives came to San Sebastian specifically to see Sun before their competitors in MIFED, where sales will likely be closed.