SCOTS actor director Peter Mullan has won a remarkable four awards at the Venice Film Festival for his directorial debut, Orphans, continuing his clean sweep of grand slam film events.

In May, he won best actor at the Cannes Film Festival for Ken Loach's My Name is Joe.

Now he is the toast of the 55th Venice Film Festival taking an equal record four prizes, decided by different juries.

The compelling, partly autobiographical story of Orphans - scripted by Campbell Gordon - stars an ensemble cast of Scottish actors and was funded by Antonine Films and Green Bridge.

The production, in collaboration with Channel 4 Film, the Scottish Arts Council, and the Glasgow Film Fund, has greatly impressed critics, industry pundits, and the public.

It was voted the best film of the sidebar International Critics Week. An all-European panel of critics awarded it the Les Pierrots Prize for best first/second feature at a grand slam - Cannes, Venice, Berlin - Festival.

Orphans also won the Kodak judges' first prize, and the National Association of Italian Critics honoured the film with the Isvema Prize, awarded to the film that best represents cultural aspects and social realities of the producing country. As well as top honours, this carries a financial reward of a million lire towards the distribution of the film.

Orphans is an emotionally tough film based on Mullan's autobiographical experiences following the death of his mother. However, instead of wallowing in grief and anger the film-maker, who has made several short works and since adolescence aspired to direct, decided to use the pain and grief as creative fuel.

The film spans the events of one night as four adult orphans gather for a vigil around their dead mother's coffin. In a long night of emotional and psychological exorcism, they attempt to deal with their feelings, exacerbated by the physical storm outside in a wild Glasgow night.

However, it is not all bleakness - the anguish and unexpressed emotions are exposed in a crescendo of black comedy.

''After my mother died I re-member feeling very angry and in this film I divided the anger amongst the characters,'' said Mullan. But eventually they stop feeling sorry for themselves and after the initial emotional explosion and catharsis come to terms with the reality.

''I wanted to look at another side of grief which never gets shown, the very angry unprotected side: the loss, finally, of both parents.'' He added: ''The mo-ments I love the most are those when one doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.''

''It's a tough film,'' he admitted. ''We weren't sure how it would fare in Europe. However, I felt it was important to see the combination of emotion and social politics driving a film instead of the special effects too prevalent in Hollywood.''

Mullan, 39, has long been interested in making films. However, when he did not gain admission to the National Film School he decided to dedicate himself to acting, and made a debut in the theatre in 1988.

He then moved to television and cinema, where he gained valuable experience in roles in such as Ken Loach's Riff Raff (1991), Mel Gibson's Braveheart (1995), and Danny Boyle's Trainspotting (1995). Internationally, he was catapulted into the top league with his Palme D'Or win of best actor at Cannes.

Asked last night whether success in both acting and directing made it difficult to choose between the two, he said: ''I love writing as well as the behind and in front of the camera work - I see them all as part of the filmic process. Basically, I just think of myself as a film-maker.''

At Venice this year, emotionally tough and compelling films have emerged as winners in several categories. The Golden Lion award for best film was won by Gianni Amelio's The Way They Laughed, an emotionally complex tale of the relationship of two Sicilian brothers.

Sean Penn won best actor for another complex emotional and psychological exploration in Hurlyburly, and the usually beautifully coiffed and elegant Catherine Deneuve picked up the best actress award for her portrayal of a depressed, disorientated alcoholic attempting to cope after the death of her husband.

Mullan - resplendent in full Scottish regalia - is the only British winner at this year's festival. Accompanying him at the presentation ceremony, actor Stephen McCole said: ''I wouldn't miss this night for the world. Peter has been an incredibly strong influence on me. When I was at school we used to go to plays to see him perform and he knew my drama teacher. He's a legend.''