Chinese director Zhu Wen's South Of The Clouds scooped two prizes at the awards gala of the Hong Kong International Film Festival (April 6-21) on Thursday night - the Golden Firebird Award and the award of the FIPRESCI jury.

The film, about a retired factory worker who takes off for one last adventure, recently won the NETPAC prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Launched last year, the "Firebird Awards for Young Cinema" recognises international directors' first or second efforts. The Silver Firebird Award went to Brazilian director Roberto Moreira's Up Against Them All while Let The Wind Blow, directed by Partho Sen Gupta, received a special mention.

In the Asian DV Competition, Ning Hao's Incense, about a Buddhist monk losing his innocence, picked up the Golden DV Award. ASTIGmatism, directed by The Philippines' Jon Red, won the Silver DV Award and special mentions went to Tang Poetry and Capitalist Manifesto: Working Men Of All Countries, Accumulate!

This year's festival has been more spirited than last year when SARS kept away international visitors. Overseas guests have included Italian director Marco Bellocchio and Taiwan's Hou Hsiao-Hsien, both of whom sat on the Firebird Awards jury, and Japanese actor Sabu who helped judge the Asian DV Competition.

In addition, ticket sales are up by about 8-9% compared to last year. "This is encouraging because ticket sales didn't decline last year due to SARS," said festival director Peter Tsi.

Next year's HKIFF will be run by a private non-profit organisation rather than the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, but will still be partially funded by government. Three other major industry events - the Hong Kong Film Awards, the Trade Development Council's Filmart and the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum - are being planned to take place around the same time.