Dragomir Sholev’s feature debut Shelter has become the first Bulgarian film to win the Grand Prix of Sofia International Film Festival’s (SIFF) International Competition.

The drama, which premiered in the New Directors section at San Sebastian last September and was pitched at a previous edition of the Sofia Meetings, also took home the Kodak Award for Best Bulgarian Feature Film and the festival’s Audience Award.

Speaking at the gala closing ceremony in Sofia’s National Palace of Culture, Shelter’s producer Rossitsa Valkanova of Klas Film said that it had been “a specially important statement this year that two Bulgarian films [Shelter and Viktor Chouchkov Jr’s Tilt] were selected for the first time for the International Competition. In a reference to the problems surrounding Bulgaria’s national film funding programme, she commented: “after spending the last 20 years fighting for the resurrection of Bulgarian cinema, I truly hope that we won’t see market values being more appreciated than cultural ones.”

The International Jury led by Icelandic director Fridrik Thor Fridriksson and including former Connecting Cottbus artistic director Gabriele Brunnenmeyer and filmmakers Kamen Kalev, Alvaro Brechner and Ognen Svilicic, gave their Special Jury Award to Selim Gunes’ White As Snow and the prize for Best Director to Joao Nuno Pinto for America, starring Russian actress Chulpan Khamatova, while the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize went to Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson’s Sound Of Noise.

Another three Bulgarian filmmakers were among the winners on Saturday evening: the Jameson Short Film Award for Best Bulgarian Short went to Pavel G. Vesnakov for his short Trains and the new Domain Boyar Balkan Film Award presented to Footsteps In The Sand by Ivailo Hristov. For the first time this year, the festival audience decided on the winner in the Documentary Competition and voted for Tonislav Hristov’s The Rules Of Single Life.

Meanwhile, the Sofia Municipality Award for services to world cinema were presented to Bulgarian actor Russi Chanev, film directors Claude Lelouch and Otar Iosseliani as well as the legendary actress Claudia Cardinale who attended a gala screening of a re-cut version of Visconti’s The Leopard.

She also took time out to add her name to the growing list of signatures which were collected in Sofia for the European film Academy’s petition calling for a continuation of the MEDIA Programme after 2013.

More than 260 international guests came to Sofia for the jubilee edition, ranging from Volker Schlöndorff, Sylvia Kristel, and Andrzej Zulawski, through Aleksey Uchitel, Goran Paskaljevic, and Paul Fraser to Tony Palmer, Edmond Budina, Sarajevo Film Festival’s Mirsad Purivatra and ACE President Simon Perry .

As in previous years, the awards ceremony was followed by a party and concert by the legendary Festival Band fronted by festival director Stefan Kitanov and featuring “guest appearances” by Serbian film critic Dubravka Lakic on vocals and Bavaria Film International’s Thorsten Ritter and jury member Ognen Svilicic jamming on guitar.

Meanwhile, Hungary and Israel were the big winners at this year’s edition of the Sofia Meetings co-production meeting. The prizes for Best Project and Best Pitch in the Second Films and Plus Minus One sections went to Robert Lakatos’ Indian Wife (to be produced by Inforg Studio’s Andras Muhi) and Tom Shoval’s Youth (to be produced by Gal Greenspan’s Green Productions), respectively.

In addition, the Mediterranean Film Institute awarded a grant to Romanian producer Dan Burlac and screenwriter Andrea Valeanu to develop further Afghan-born director Barmak Akram’s second feature Firuza.

Participants at the Meetings included sales agents Ellis Driessen (Fortissimo Films), Thorsten Ritter (Bavaria Film International), Gabor Greiner (Films Boutique), producers Marc Baschet (ASAP Films), Alexander Ris (Neue Mediopolis Film), Simone Baumann  (LE Vision), Dunja Klemenc (Maj Film) and film funders Manfred Schmidt (MDM), Katriel Schory (Israel Film Fund) and Darko Baseski (Macedonian Film Fund).

The 2011 SIFF programme featured several films which had been pitched to potential co-production partners at previous editions of the Sofia Meetings. They ranged from the two Bulgarian films in the International Competition – Shelter and Tilt – to the world premiere of Edmond Budina’s Balkan Bazaar and Srdjan Koljevic’s The Woman With A Broken Nose. In addition, there were screenings in the Works in Progress showcase of Iljan Djevelekov’s Love.Net and Ivan Vladimirov and Valery Yordanov’s youth drama Sneakers as well as the omnibus project October by seven young Serbian directors, which has been coordinated by filmmaker Stefan Arsenjevic who also teaches at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade.

Moreover, ScreenDaily learnt during this year’s Meetings about the progress of several projects pitched at the 2009 edition. Slovenian director Jan Cvitkovic has entered into postproduction on his 2009 Sofia Meetings project Archeo, produced by Jozko Rutar of Staragara Film, while Germany’s Neue Mediopolis Film will be a co-producer on Stephan Komanderev’s next feature The Judgement and Hussein Karabey’s Come To My Voice!. In addition, Brandon Muldowney’s second feature Love Eternal – which was presented in Sofia two years ago - is set to shoot this year. according to producer Conor Barry of Fastnet Films.