Cannes Critics' Week winners Thirst (Atash) by Tawfik Abou Wael and Keren Yedaya's Or both shared the top prize for bestIsraeli film at the 21st Jerusalem Film Festival.

The awards for best actor and actress went to twowell-established veterans, each of them starring in two films screening atJerusalem. Ronit Alkabetz played an over-the-hill prostitute whose daughter istrying to reform in Or,and an overstressed housewife on edge in To Take a Wife. Moshe Ivgi played a shy minibus driverin Campfire and a usedcar dealer trying to peddle a Canadian stretch limo in Metallic Blues.

Danny Verete's Metallic Blues collected the Best Script award, and Sentencedto Marriage by AnatZuria, a powerful indictment of the fate reserved for Orthodox women in theircommunity, walked away with the Best Documentary prize.

The choice of the winners was only agreed a fewminutes before the awards were announced, hinting at skirmishes between thejudges behind the scenes. The festival's patron, Jack Wolgin, alsoinsisted that from 2005, split decisions would no longer be accepted. On apositive note, Wolgin also announced that from next year, the sum total of allthe cash prizes, which came close to $220,000 (1 million shekels), would riseby 40%.

Going into this year's festival, the Israeliindustry was preparing to celebrate. It has been a record year - with majorawards collected by both features and documentaries in film festivals aroundthe world, a number of films going into international distribution, a sharpincrease in co-productions (five of the fourteen films in competition featuredforeign partners in the credits) and with domestic box office reaching newheights (close to 800,000 admissions for 2003).

However, instead the industry found itself facing yetanother crisis which threatens to slow, if not block altogether, its promisingonward thrust. Less than a week before the festival started, the Treasuryannounced that since income from fees paid by commercial TV broadcasters havedecreased considerably in the last year, film subsidies - which are supposed tobe equal to half of these fees - will be cut by 26%.

The decision immediately provoked massive protestsfrom every single part of the industry. Every festival screening of an Israelipicture was preceded by a text expressing the anger and frustration generatedby this measure. A trailer underlining the same points will also appear onlocal screens from this week.

Meanwhile, the threat that a parallel festival, heldon exactly the same dates in next-door Ramallah, might affect the success ofthe Jerusalem event, turned out to be largely unfounded.

There were rumors of a possible collaboration betweenthe two events, but Jerusalem's chief Lia van Leer denies there were anysuch contacts, not because she did not want them but most likely because thatmight have done damage more than helped the Palestinian side.

The guests shared by the two festivals were themembers of two European delegations, who crossed the border into Palestinianterritory for a day-long visit.

Jerusalem Awards
Best Film - Exaequo to Atash (Thirst)by Tawfik Abou Wael and Or by Keren Yedaya.
Best actor - Moshe Ivgi for Campfire and Metallic Blues
Best actress - Ronit Elkabetz for Or and To Take a Wife
Best Script - Danny Verete for Metallic Blues
Best - Dcoumentary- Sentenced to Marriage by Anat Zuria
Best Short Film - Red Tape by Danny Rosenberg
Best TV drama - Mirrors by Orly Malessa
Spirit of Freedom Award for a fiction film - Witnesses by Vinko Bresan
Spirit of Freedom Award for best documentary - Mur by Simone Bitton
Jewish Experience feature films - Le Tango de Rashevski by Sam Gabarski
Jewish Experience documentary films - Applefeld's Table by Adi Japhet Fuchs