Cronyism charged in panel's decision

MOSCOW — There was consternation among Russian cineastes after director Nikita Mikhalkov’s “Burnt by the Sun: The Citadel,” which earned just $1.5 million at the box office, was chosen Tuesday to represent the country in Oscar’s foreign-language category.

“Citadel” is the second of a two-part sequel to the original “Burnt by the Sun,” which won the Academy Award in 1995.

The $34 million pic was chosen over Alexander Sokurov’s Venice Golden Lion winner “Faust” and “Elena” by Andrei Zvyagintsev.

“Citadel,” criticized as a bloated, sentimental take on the horrors of Russia’s war with Nazi Germany, updates the characters and storylines of the original film.

The decision was taken by a committee of eight filmmakers, actors and critics that included Mikhalkov and his screenwriter Gleb Panfilov, although both are understood to have abstained from voting because of the conflict of interest.

Other members included Moscow Film Festival programmer Kirill Razlogov, Oscar winning director Vladimir Menshov, Mosfilm director Karen Shakhnazarov and three others.

The decision, backed by a majority of sitting committee members, surprised some industryites.

Menshov — whose “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears” won the foreign-language Oscar in 1981 — called the decision of the committee he sits on “scandalous.”

Speaking to Moscow independent radio station Echo on Tuesday, Menshov said “Citadel,” released in May, “had an absolute critical drubbing … it was never shown anywhere internationally; it was a catastrophe at the box office.”

Critical press comments dubbed the decision cronyism and even Mikhalkov’s elder brother and fellow director Andrei Konchalovsky weighed in, saying the decision did not “reflect the opinion of filmmakers.”

There was no comment from Mikhalkov, who won praise for his early work in Soviet times as an actor and director, but more recently has become a deeply divisive figure within the film community here, accused by many of playing politics and not art.

Anna Tchernakova, a Russian-born filmmaker who works in the U.K., defended the decision.

She told Variety: “Among the people on the panel who made the decision regarding the Russian submission are very respected and renowned members of the Russian film industry, not related to Mikhalkov. They followed all the procedures, voted and made a decision in the most unrestrained and democratic way, and this decision should be respected, even if other members of the Russian film community disagree with it.”

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