Film fest plays despite low funding, other woes

MOSCOW — Moscow’s 20th International Film Festival unspooled Saturday in the newly refurbished Rossiya Cinema in the center of the Russian capital, confounding the expectations of many who had doubted that the event — dogged by uncertain funding and administrative problems alike — would open at all.

The opening-night audience was saluted with an official greeting from Russian President Boris Yeltsin, delivered by deputy PM Oleg Susuev, as well as by rousing words from Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

“The Moscow is alive and it will always live, because we all need cinema, especially in these difficult years,” said Luzhkov in an upbeat speech that earned him the loudest applause of the opening ceremony. “It is important that cinema returns not only to Moscow, but to Russia — and to our souls.”

With this year’s jubilee fest coinciding with the 850th anni of the city of Moscow — and the mayor’s major endeavor to put the city back on the international map — his fervor was understandable.

Nostalgic opening

Though ceremony speeches looked consciously to the future, the fest opening had a more nostalgic feel to it, as stars from earlier Moscow festivals — such as Ornella Muti, Gina Lollobrigida, Jacqueline Bissett and Alberto Sordi — remembered affectionately the warm reception once accorded them by Moscow crowds. By contrast, the reception given to this year’s opening film, “Romeo & Juliet,” showing out of competition, seemed less than ecstatic.

Claiming strong

Changing times — and a competition program that few are claiming strong — certainly makes the Moscow fest atmosphere a different one today. Though theaters are at last being upgraded and facilities have improved — this year’s press center even boasts computers — the frequent scheduling changes for which Russia seems to be notorious still make the fest a bewildering one for many foreign visitors.

The jury, led by Russian actor and prexy Oleg Menshikov, consists of Georgian director Irakli Kvirikazde, Polish actress Beata Tishkevich, Spanish director and critic Fernando Mendez-Leite, Bulgarian helmer Georgy Dyulgerov, India’s Mrinal Sen, French producer Michel Seydoux and Mexican director Sergio Olhovich.

Fest funding this year is about $4 million, half the sum handed out in 1995, and $1million to $2 million less than the optimum figure put forward by fest VP and budgeter Renat Davletyarov.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more