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    Russian Film Festivals – Ivanovo, Sochi, Moscow 2008

    By Ron Holloway | July 29, 2008

    Care to piggyback a quartet of Russian film festivals? It’s much easier than you can imagine. Though a bit like playing the roulette table at Las Vegas. These days, your odyssey on a Russian summer festival circuit begins at the Russian Pavilion in the Marché du Film at Cannes. Newly opened, and serving as an unofficial Russian film office (an official one is still in the talking stage), the Russian Pavilion is well worth the visit, particularly for those Russian film buffs badly in need of visa support for multi-entry festival visits. Located in the Cannes village on “pavilion row” just down the way from the American and beach-side oases, the Russian Pavilion can be easily reached at the end of that regal row, where a flight of stairs leads up to a eye-fetching view over the harbor.

    There, on most any day during this year’s Cannes festival, you could meet one or more of the kingpins of the four major Russian film festivals, to wit: Alexei Gorzinov, promoting the Zerkalo International Film Festival in Ivanovo (May 26 to June 1); Alexander Rodnyansky, heralding the Sochi Open Russian Film Festival (June 7-15); Nikita Mikhalkov, proclaiming the Moscow International Film Festival (June 19-28); and Alexander Mamontov, plugging the St. Petersburg Festival of Festivals (June 23-29).

    Among these festival politicos, Alexander Rodnyansky was the key Russian personality on the Croisette. He met with Cannes festival director Thierry Frémaux to discuss the possibility of programming his multi-million-rubel production of The Inhabited Island, based on a popular science-fiction tale by the brothers Boris and Arkady Strugatzky and directed by Fyodor Bundarchuk. Budgeted at a reported $36 million, The Inhabited Island ranks as the most expensive production in Russian film history. Conceived as a two-part epic, with special effects along Matrix lines, it currently runs at over four hours in postproduction news releases.

    Whether Alexander Rodnyansky will present the film at next year’s Cannes festival is another question altogether. Since he recently served as a jury member at the Berlinale, Dieter Kosslick may have put in an early bid for the film to premiere next February in Berlin. In any case, the best listening posts to new developments in Russian cinema are the festivals in Ivanovo, Sochi, Moscow, and (if you skip Moscow) St. Petersburg. Provided you have a smathering of Russian lingo under your belt.

    2nd Zerkalo International Film Festival in Ivanovo 2008

    This year, the drum was beaten pretty loudly at the Russian Pavilion for the new Zerkalo (read: Mirror) International Film Festival in Ivanovo. New to the festival landscape, Zerkalo is sometimes referred to as the “Andrei Tarkovsky Festival” – because the Russian director was born here, while its title refers to his autobiographical masterpiece, Zerkalo (Mirror) (USSR, 1976). Now in its second year, and running on the tailend of the Cannes film festival, journalists would have to have good connections at the Russian Foreign Ministry to wrangle a quick visa to attend Zerkalo. I know, because I tried – and fell flat on my face. However, according to Alexei Gorzinov, Zerkalo’s general director, Cannes visitors this year could catch a flight to Ivanovo via Moscow from Paris via Nice on the day after Cannes (May 13-24) closed. Ivanovo is a short 125-mile drive from Moscow to the northeast.

    Last year, when the festival was initially launched, it proved to be such a success that 400 guests immediately applied for accreditation to this year’s event. Not surprising – for its president is actress Inna Churikova, the doyenne of Russian stage and screen. And a fully restored version of Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (USSR, 1969) was billed as one of the festival’s key attractions. But the real reason for the festival’s success is the splurge of multiplexes scattered across Russia.

    Ivanovo, together with neighboring Pilos and Yurievets, can boast of eight cinema halls, offering 100 screenings to circa 15,000 spectators. Altogether, 130 films were screened at the Second Ivanovo Film Festival – 67 features, 25 documentaries, 38 cartoons and shorts. Eleven films from nine countries competed for festival laurels. Among the 16 Russian features programmed by Sergei Lavrentiev in the Competition and the New Russian Films section were six Russian premieres. “The first Zerkalo festival inspired many directors to start making meaningful cinema,” said Alexei Gorzinov in a festival flyer. “It is now prestigious, especially for young filmmakers, to simply get a diploma as participant of the festival.” Apparently, he was referring to the dirge of shoddy film fare hitting the home screens of late.

    The Grand Prix was awarded to Kurdish director Hiner Saleem’s Sous les toits de Paris (Under the Rooftops of Paris) (France, 2007). Starring Michel Piccoli in this offbeat comedy about a cranky old man who inherits a rundown flat atop the roofs of Paris, Under the Rooftops of Paris shifts into high gear when a younger roommate pushes the octogenarian’s patience to the limit during a sweltering hot summer. Awarded Best Director at Zerkalo, Dorota Kedzierzawska’s Jestem (I Am), her fourth feature film, is arguably her best. The story of a sensitive 11-year-old boy committed by his mother to an orphanage, he runs away to live on an abandoned river-barge somewhere in backwoods Poland and make his way by collecting and selling scrap-iron. I Am was inspired by a real-life news story.

    Two awards went deservedly to Csaba Bollok’s Iszka utazasa (Iska’s Journey) (Hungary, 2007): Best Actress to Maria Varga, plus the Prize of the Russian Critics Guild. The heart rending story of a teenager forced to collect scrap-iron to pay for the drinking habits of her mother and stepfather, Iska’s Journey begins when the girl tries to run away and ends when she falls in the hands of a mafia band that specializes in child kidnapping and trans-border prostitution.

    Citations for Outstanding Contribution to World Cinema were awarded to Dutch cult director Jos Stelling and Russian veteran actor Alexei Petrenko. Jos Stelling’s uproarious Duska (Netherlands, 2007), the story of an Amsterdam screenwriter and film critic imposed upon by an eastern European movie conman, whom he had once befriended at a backwoods Russian film festival, was a hit at Ivanovo. Alexei Petrenko is best known in Russian cinema for playing the monk Rasputin in Elem Klimov’s previously banned classic Agoniya (Agony) (USSR, 1981).

    Want to know more about Zerkalo? Then ask Faye Dunaway. She was a Guest of Honor in Ivanovo.

    Ivanovo Awards
    Main Prize
    Sous les toits de Paris (Under the Rooftops of Paris) (France), dir Hiner Saleem
    Best Director
    Dorota Kedzierzawska, Jestem (I Am) (Poland)
    Best Actor
    Alessandro Morace, Anche libero va bene, (Along the Ridge) (Italy), dir Kim Rossi Stuart
    Best Actress
    Maria Varga, Iszka utazasa (Iska’s Journey) (Hungary), dir Csaba Bollok
    Awards for Outstanding Contribution to World Cinema
    Jos Stelling, director (Netherlands)
    Alexei Petrenko, actor (Russia)
    Award of Festival President
    Elena Nikolaeva, actress (Russia)
    Award of Russian Film Critics Guild
    Iszka utazasa (Iska’s Journey) (Hungary), dir Csaba Bollok
    Audience Award
    Foreldrar (Parents) (Iceland), dir Ragnar Bragason

    19th Sochi Open Russian Film Festival 2008

    Sochi, likened to Cannes with its palm trees and luxury hotels, is not just the principal showcase of new Russian cinema, but also the favored resort of Russian millionaires. Add to this the forthcoming Winter Olympics in 2014, and you have a city that’s changing its image almost daily. While attending this year’s 19th outing, the talk of the “new metropolis” reached science-fiction dimensions. A luxury hotel will be build on an artificial island in the Black Sea. A double-tiered highway is planned to eliminate traffic jams on the current two-lane highway that takes an hour to reach downtown Sochi from the airport. And a brand international airport will host guests without a stopover in Moscow.

    As usual, “Sochi Kinotavr” (as it’s also known) welcomed 1500 guests, mostly Russian. The competition, programmed by Sitora Alieva, featured 15 films, including one documentary. “It is a good year, considering the interest shown by several international festival directors,” she said in an interview. “But young producers and directors still have a lot to learn. Unfortunately, many aspire to get into Kinotavr in order to justify the capital investments of sponsors – a kind of self PR.”

    Among the sidebars were New Russian Shorts, Summer Euphoria (programmed by critic Andrei Plakhov), Special Screenings, Cinema on the Square (commercial blockbusters), and the second half of the “50/50” Series (Best 50 Russian and Soviet Films and Directors). Sochi is also known for its lively Russian Film Market. This year, however, the market was just wrapping when international guests arrived. Still, a dozen glossy magazines proclaimed hot attractions booked by a hundred or more multiplexes recently built in all the major cities across Russia. One cover story and festival poster featured a new political actioner titled Hitler Kaput! in a James-Bond-like trailer format. And DVDs of new Russian films that were not selected for programming in the festival were handed out like cupcakes to international guests.

    Sochi opened with Alexander Proshkin’s Zhivi i pomni (Live to Remember), a screen adaptation of popular writer Valentin Rasputin’s novel with the same title. Set in a Siberian village, it’s the story of a Russian soldier who deserted during the last days of the Second World War and now hides away in a shack near his native village. Only his forgiving wife knows about his whereabouts, which leads to a family tragedy and shame for the village. For this light-handed film fare, Alexander Proshkin was awarded Best Director.

    The best film of the festival, and a sure bet to make the rounds of the international film festivals, was Mikhail Kalatozishvili’s Dikoye polye (Wild Field), awarded the Best Screenplay (the late Pyotr Lutzik and Alexei Samoryadov), Best Film Music (Alexei Aigi), and the “White Elephant” Award of the Russian Critics. The scenario team of Lutzik and Samoryadov are best known for their masterful Okraina (Outskirts) (Russia, 1998), directed by Lutzik a year before he died. Leaning purposely on a prior tradition of socialist realism, Outskirts narrated in powerful images a modern-day uprising in the provinces against corruption and bureaucracy in the capital.

    By contrast, Wild Field comes across as an absurd, fantasy-packed drama about a young doctor who just opened his office at an outpost on the steppes of Central Asia. Crazy things happen almost daily – a drunken worker, a shepherd struck by lightning, a sick cow, a beauty of the steppes just stopping by for a visit – all under the sharp observed by a mysterious hermit who pops into view every now on then on the top of a nearby hill. A film of striking poetic visual images.

    Bakur Bakuradze’s Shultes (name of the film’s lead role) was awarded Best Film. Previously screened at Cannes in the Directors Fortnight sidebar, the film has been nominated by FIPRESCI Critics for the European FIPRESCI Award. Set in a large Russian city (apparently Moscow), Shultes is a skillful pickpocket thief who, together with a boy assistant, works for a mafia-like organization on special assignments. More of a robot than a human, he cares for his ailing mother and occasionally visits his war-invalided brother in a clinic for stress-syndrome soldiers. Gradually,as his life style unfolds, we see just what had happened to bring this talented sportsman to this stage in his lost life.

    Sochi Russian Awards
    Best Film
    Shultes, dir Bakur Bakuradze
    Special Diploma
    Novaya zemlya (Terra Nova), dir Alexander Melnik
    Best Debut Film
    Nirvana, dir Igor Voloshin
    Best Actress
    Ksenia Rappoport, Yuriev den (Yury’s Day), dir Kirill Serebrennikov
    Best Actor
    Jethro Skinner, Plyus odin (Plus One), dir Oksana Bychkova
    Best Director
    Alexander Proshkin, Zhivi i pomni (Live to Remember)
    Best Screenplay (post mortem)
    Peter Lutzik, Alexei Samoryadov, Dikoye polye (Wild Field), dir Mikhail Kalatozishvili
    Best Cinematography
    Ilya Demin, Novaya zemlya (Terra Nova), dir Alexander Melnik
    Best Film Music (Tariverdiev Prize)
    Alexei Aigi, Dikoye polye (Wild Field), dir Mikhail Kalatozishvili
    Best Short Film
    PAL/SECAM, dir Dmitry Povolorsky
    Special Mentions
    Rba (The Fish), dir Alexander Kott
    Pyatnashki (Tag), dir Natalya Uglitskikh
    Russian Critics “White Elephant” Award
    Dikoye polye (Wild Field), dir Mikhail Kalatozishvili
    Development of Cinema in Russia Award
    Alexei Gherman, film director
    Armin Medvedev, Rus film fund administrator

    30th Moscow International Film Festival 2008

    Viewed from the rosy side of its facilities, the 30th Moscow International Film Festival (19-28 June 2008) should rank high as a major event on the calendar. Seen from the professional side, however, this year’s MIFF still has a way to go before it catches up with other A-category competition festivals. That it lags so far behind Cannes, Venice, and Berlin – some festival veterans say even Karlovy Vary, Montreal, and San Sebastian – is a bit of a mystery. Simply because Moscow has everything a festival needs to prosper: a media headquarters in the 8-screen October Theater multiplex, an efficient press center in the functional Khudozhestvenny cinema, a backup venue for gala evenings in the plush Pushkinsky cinema, an informative 300-page catalogue, a glossy daily journal printed in Russian and English, and young volunteers whose English is their second language.

    So what’s missing? The money, say informed festival insiders. For some reason, the budget for this year’s festival was not approved by government officials until just two months before the opening night. Too late to select top quality films, to assure the presence of VIPs, and to organize a representative film market. Also, most trade journalists received only a four-day invitation. Despite that singular budget drawback, however, MIFF 30 did set some new in-house standards – if only because of the popularity of program director Kirsi Tykkylainen that enabled her to book competition entries on short notice, plus the fact that the anniversary sidebars programs had already been prepared well in advance.

    The international jury, headed by Liv Ullman, awarded the Golden George (aka St. George Statue) to a worthy Iranian entry: Reza Mir Karimi’s Be hamin sadegi (As Simple As That), an intimate sketch of a day in the life of a devoted housewife. Similarly, the Silver George, Special Jury Prize, was awarded to Marion Laine’s Un coeur simple (A Simple Heart) (France), a screen adaptation of the Gustave Flaubert classic about a maid devoting herself unselfishly to others without receiving much for her pains in return.

    With just four days to play festival catch-up, I found myself drifting towards the archival discoveries in the Socialist Avant Gardism sidebar. Here, in a small screening room at the October multiplex, you could see 18 previously shelved and recently restored Soviet films from the silent period through the “thaw” of the 1960s. The series included such legendary films as Kote Mikhaberidze’s Chemi bebia (My Grandmother) (USSR/Georgian Republic) (1929), an hilarious satire on Soviet bureaucracy, and Mikhail Kalatozov’s Gvozd v sapoge (Nail in the Boot) (USSR/Agitprop) (1931), a propaganda parable about a tribunal in which the accusers themselves are found guilty for having manufactured faulty boots used during wartime maneuvers.

    Another gem was found in the Perspectives section: Igor Maiboroda’s documentary Rerberg i Tarkovsky – Obratnaya storona “Stalkera” (Rerberg and Tarkovsky – Reverse Side of “Stalker”). Running at 140 minutes, this insightful tribute to the talented Soviet painter-cinematographer Georg Ivanovich Rerberg (1937-1999) focuses on his disruptive collaboration with Andrei Tarkovsky during the making of the latter’s Stalker (USSR, 1979), based on a science-fiction, Chernobyl-like story by Boris and Arkady Stugatsky.

    As chronicled in Maiboroda’s documentary, Tarkovsky and Rerberg had an acrimonious falling-out during the shooting of Stalker – so much so that Rerberg refused later to discuss the matter at all during his lifetime. For Tarkovsky had persuaded the Soviet authorities to let him shoot a new version of Stalker, this time with a new cinematographer, Alexander Knyazhinsky. In this “reverse side” version, Maiboroda offers documentation collected principally from eyewitnesses to tell a different and private story of offended honor and professional pride. Hereafter, film historians may be compelled to reassess the discarded first version of the Stalker masterpiece.

    Diplomas for Support of Russian Cinema

    Patting yourself on the back for getting an award is one of those win-lose propositions you would just as soon sidestep. Because, to be perfectly honest, I was just one of a half-dozen journalists singled out for a “Diploma for Support of Russian Cinema” at the recent 30th Moscow International Film Festival. Others – some of whom deserved the award more than myself – included Kazuo Yamada of Japan, Derek Malcolm of Great Britain, Galina Kopanova of the Czech Republic, Klaus Eder and Hans-Joachim Schlegel of Germany. On the other hand, thanks to a stroke of good fortune, I have been visiting Russia and the former Soviet Union on a regular basis since 1976. A stretch of 30 years.

    This sprawling country and fabulous filmland had been the favored corner of my Eastern European playground as a roving reporter. Some cities I grew to know like the back of my hand: Moscow, St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), Sochi, Kiev, Tashkent, Tbilisi, Yerevan, Baku, Riga, Tallinn, Vilnius, Almaty, and elsewhere along the way. Often, I wrote feverishly just to keep up. Mostly about filmmakers I respected, many known personally. The list is long and incomplete: Andrei Tarkovsky and Sergei Parajanov, Elem Klimov and Larisa Shepitko, Alexei Gherman and Alexei Gherman Jr, Andrei Konchalovsky and Nikita Mikhalkov, Alexander Sokurov and Otar Yoseliani, Sergei Bodrov and Juris Podnieks, Gleb Panfilov and Nikolai Gubenko – to mention just a few directors whose films have enriched my life.

    My first invitation to attend the Moscow International Film Festival came in 1976. Together with Variety’s Paris-based correspondent Gene Moskowitz, I became acquainted with nearly all of the important figures in that remarkable “Russian New Wave” movement. When I noticed that no one else was making straightforward documentaries about Parajanov and Klimov, then I picked up a camera and did it myself. (My documentaries on these legendary directors are available on DVD from Kino International.)

    Also, when I sensed the importance of Larisa Shepitko’s Voshozhdenie (Ascent) (USSR, 1977), I worked hard to get the film invited to the Berlinale – and then waited anxiously in the wings until it did, indeed, win the Golden Bear. Those years between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s were exciting, to say the very least. What’s more – they were almost exclusively mine as an American journalist for the “trades”: Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Moving Pictures.

    (When I first visited the Moscow festival, Gene Moskowitz handed on a piece of proverbial wisdom: “Don’t speak Russian even if you know how – your translator-guardian will willingly fill in the gaps, and you’ll learn a hell of a lot more!” Perhaps in deference to Gene, I have continued following that same rule of thumb up to the present day.)

    The quest to find talent in the “new Russia” continued after Gorbachev’s rise to power. From the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s, I have traveled the festival backroads to cities formerly envisioned only in wistful daydreams. At this juncture, I was helped immensely by several Moscow colleagues to keep up with the changing times under the yoke of my fragmented knowledge of Russian language and culture. Thank you, Andrei Plakhov and Sergei Lavrentiev, Raisa Fomina and Evgenia Tirdatova, Sitora Elieva and a score of others in my busted memory. When Andrei Plakhov handed my the tribute citation at MIFF 30, tears welded in my eyes. Blessings like this don’t come more than once in a lifetime.

    Moscow Awards
    Main Competition
    Golden St. George – Best Film
    Be hamin sadegi (As Simple As That) (Iran), dir Reza Mir Karimi
    Silver St. George – Special Jury Prize
    Un coeur simple (A Simple Heart) (France), dir Marion Laine
    Silver St. George – Best Director
    Javor Gardev, Zift (Moth) (Bulgaria)
    Silver St. George – Best Actor
    Richard Jenkins, The Visitor (USA), dir Tom McCarthy
    Silver St. George – Best Actress
    Margherita Buy, Giorni e nuvole (Days and Clouds) (Italy/Switzerland), dir Silvio Soldini
    Perspectives Competition
    Cumbia callera (Cumbia Connection) (Mexico), dir Rene U. Villareal
    Special Prize for Outstanding Contribution to World Cinema
    Takeshi Kitano (Japan)
    FIPRESCI (International Critics) Prize
    Odnazhdy v provintsii (Once Upon a Time in the Provinces), (Russia), dir Katya Shagalova
    Russian Critics Prizes
    Main Competition
    Be Hamin sadegi (As Simple As That) (Iran), dir Reza Mir Karimi
    Perspectives Competition
    Odin kadr (One shot) (Denmark), dir Linda Wendel
    Russian Film Clubs Federation Prizes
    Main Competition
    Zift (Moth) (Bulgaria), dir Javor Gardev
    Russian Program
    Ne dumay pro belykh obezian (Don’t Think About White Monkeys), dir Yury Mamin
    Audience Award
    For My Father (Israel), dir Dror Zahavi
    Special Award “I believe – Konstantin Stanislavsky” for Outstanding Acting Achievement in Career and Devotion to Principles of Stanislavsky’s School
    Isabelle Huppert (France)
    Diplomas for Support of Russian Cinema
    Klaus Eder (Germany)
    Ron Holloway (USA)
    Galina Kopanova (Czech Republic)
    Derek Malcolm (UK)
    Hans-Joachim Schlegel (Germany)
    Kazuo Yamada (Japan)

    – Ron Holloway

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