MOSCOW — The 21st Intl. Film Fest here may have been the last one of the century, but it was the first one this decade to draw praise from critics and public alike.
During closing ceremonies Thursday, fest prexy Nikita Mikhalkov confirmed that the Russian government had signed a decree that day guaranteeing financing for next year’s fest — at last giving the event the annual status that it has needed to convincingly establish itself on the international scene.
Closing pic at the Moscow fest was “Star Wars: Episode I — the Phantom Menace.” Though it drew applause from the audience, the reaction didn’t match that given to French thesp Alain Delon, who was honored with a Lifetime Achievement prize at the ceremony.
The competition slate of 17 pics went further than in previous years to draw a program from around the world, with particular emphasis on Asia, Latin America and Europe. Successful programs also highlighted Latin American and Balkan filmmakers.
The main fest prizes went to veteran Japanese helmer Kaneto Shindo, whose “Will to Live” picked up the best picture award, as well as Fipresci and Russian critics’ prizes.
Best director was awarded to Iceland’s Agust Gudmundsson for “The Dance,” with special mention given to Spanish helmer Antonio Mercero’s “A Time for Defiance.” Best actress went to Catherine Frot from France’s “La Dilettante,” while Farhat Abdraimov took best actor for his title role in the Russian-Kazakh pic “Fara.”
The most talked-about pic over Moscow’s 10-day run was “Happiness,” showing that Russian auds are still hungry for pics that they don’t see through conventional distribution channels.
Sense of direction
This was the first fest since the collapse of the Soviet Union in which Moscow gave a sense that it knew where it was going. Put together on a smaller budget than in previous years, its programming was in contrast to an event that previously had been hampered by last-minute financing and scheduling problems.
Fest interest was concentrated on panorama programs, which gave the fest a firmly arthouse feel.