'Russian Ark' vying for two FELIX Awards

MOSCOW — Russian helmer Alexander Sokurov is in dispute with the European Film Academy over upcoming nominations for Dec. 7’s Rome FELIX awards, over the categories in which his Cannes-premiered “Russian Ark” has been put forward.

“Ark” was nominated for the 15th anniversary FELIX awards in two categories — Best Director, for Sokurov himself, and Best Cameraman, for Germany’s Tilman Buttner (“Run, Lola, Run”), the steadycammer who shot the critically acclaimed 90-minute, single-shot digital film cut in Dec. 2001.

Pic is set in St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, and tells the story of Russian history over more than 300 years, seen through the eyes of its main character, the French traveler and diplomat, the Marquis Astolf de Custine.

Per local reports, Sokurov and his Russian producer sent a protest letter Nov. 29 to the EFA demanding that either the film be nominated in one category only, for Best Film, or that the respected Russian auteur (director of recent works include “Moloch” and “Taurus”) would resign from EFA.

However, local sympathies appeared to change, as Marion Doring, the director of EFA’s secretariat, told Daily Variety Thursday that Russian producer Deryabin had retracted his name from the original protest letter as of Dec. 3, and planned to attend the Rome event.

Sokurov had attempted to withdraw “Ark” from nominations, but such a move was apparently unprecedented for the FELIX awards.

Doring emphasized that nominated candidates had signed an initial agreement to agree with their nominations. “It’s a democratic process, where members vote for the films concerned,” she added, admitting that she did not understand the motives that prompted Sokurov to make his recent decision, as he had originally expressed no opposition to the proposed nomination.

It’s not the first time that friction has erupted between the German producers of “Ark”, led by Jens Meurer. After its Cannes premiere, Sokurov commented, as quoted in “Sight and Sound”: “I was unhappy with them [the German producers]. The movie is not a sign of reconciliation.”

Sokurov later commented that Buttner’s “schematic approach to the creative challenge of cameraman” had cost the producers around $500,000 in extra expenses.

Sokurov was unavailable for comment Thursday at St Petersburg studio, Lenfilm.

It’s not the first time that the Russian director has come up against what he perceives as festival misunderstandings. Back in 1999 Sokurov declined a Grand-Prix nom from Russia’s national festival Kinotavr for his Hitler-themed “Moloch.” The pic had run into problems the same year at Cannes, when the fest’s script award went not only to Sokurov’s long-term writing partner Yury Arabov, but also to the German translator of Arabov’s work, Marina Koreneva, in what all parties stated was a mistake.

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