The 44th annual edition ofthe independent cinema-minded International Film Festival of Gijon, Spain (Nov23-Dec 1) kicked off Thursday with a line-up of international titles vying forofficial competition prizes. The top prize carries a $25,888 (Euros 20,000)purse for the Spanish distributor.

Nicholas Hytner'stheatre-inspired UK hit The History Boys opened the festival, and Brian Barber's US Prohibition-era musical Idlewild will close the event, both out of competition. LarryClark, Bruno Dumont, Lisandro Alonso and Peter Whitehead are subjects ofretrospectives.

Competition films fillingout the programme include three titles from the US: Dito Montiel's A GuideTo Recognizing Your Saints; WashWestmore and Richard Glatzer's dual Sundance prize-winner Quinceanera; and John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus, marking the director's return to Gijon followinghis best actor win in 2001 for Hedwig And The Angry Inch.

European entries includeLaurent Achard's Demented;Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's Dry Season;Jose Maria de Orbe's La Linea Recta,about a solitary woman making it in the city; Valeska Grisebach's story of lovegone astray, Longing; ClaireSimon's teen tale On Fire; andanother Gijon veteran, Michael Glawogger's Slumming.

There are additionally twocompetitors from Iran - Maziar Miri's tale of a man desperately seeking hisdisappeared wife, Gradually; andJafar Panahi's Offside - and oneeach from Mexico (Juan Carlos Rulfo's In The Pit); New Zealand (Toa Fraser's Fiji-set No. 2); and Taiwan (Tsai Ming-liang's I Don't Want To Sleep Alone, in co-production with France and Austria).

Features screening out ofcompetition in the official section include Lukas Moodysson's Container; Julia Loktev's Day Night Day Night; So Yong Kim's In Between Days; KellyReichardt's Old Joy;Lucinda Torre's Resistance; andKarim Ainouz's Suely In The Sky.