Sochi’s choice pix

Russian fest showcases industry uptick

SOCHI, Russia — Results of an ongoing upswing in Russia’s industry were evident in a much improved choice of pics at the ninth annual Russian Open Festival, which ran June 1 13 in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Main program at fest, which is better known by its original title Kinotavr, showcased 17 pics. With a generous choice of extra prizes and diplomas in final nominations, most of event’s main pics came away with something. So traditional problems of faction loyalties, exaggerated by a choice of pics that encompassed mainstream (especially comedy) and arthouse fare, were satisfied.

Special awards

After Alexei Guerman declined to bring his Cannes competition pic “Khrustalyov, My Car!” to Sochi, main arthouse entry was Alexei Balabanov’s stylized “Of Freaks and People,” which received a special prize. Mosfilm director Karen Shakhnazarov’s “Day of the Full Moon” won the Presidential Council’s special award, while Vadim Abdrashitov collected Grand Prix for “Time of the Dancer.”

Other nominations went toward the mainstream. Sergei Ursulyak’s popular comedy “Composition for Victory Day” collected fest’s Diamond Rose award, while Alexander Zbruev won best actor for his role in the comedy “Poor Sasha,” and veteran Zinaida Sharko best actress for performances in “Composition” and in Vladimir Bortko’s “The Circus Burned Down, and the Clowns Have Gone.”

Honoring one of Russia’s greatest film composers, Mikhail Tariverdiev, fest inaugurated a new award category for best music, which was won by Vladimir Dashkevich for his scores to Bortko’s pic and to Yury Grymov’s “Mu Mu.” Grymov also collected a special diploma from the Presidential Council.

Fest’s renewed interest came across most strongly in its parallel debut competition, where noncommercial pics stood out. Grand Prix went to Larisa Sadilova’s black and white study of a provincial maternity hospital, “Happy Birthday,” with a diploma in the category given to Petr Lutsik’s “The Outskirts.” Both pics also won prizes from the Guild of Film Scholars and Critics. FIPRESCI awards went to another rising Russian star, helmer Alexander Bashirov, for his “The Iron Heel of the Oligarchy,” and to Argentinean helmer Daniel Burman for “A Chrysanthemum Bursts” in Cincoesquinas.

Fest highlight

Programming aside, center of fest interest was a visit by Nikita Mikhalkov, prexy of territory’s Union of Filmmakers. Mikhalkov, in Sochi for the first time in fest’s nine year history — he’s had an ambivalent relationship with event in the past — spoke graciously at the closing ceremony, describing it as “a valuable laboratory for Russian cinema.”

Whether his kind words will translate into support remains to be seen, however. Though pics may have been better than in recent years, fest’s budget problems were as much in evidence as ever, with a delay in promised state funding causing cutbacks on every level.

Though organizers were promising that preparations for next year’s 10th anniversary fest are under way, it’s due to add a TV market to its current brief, event’s intermediate future looks likely to remain a difficult one.

Founder and producer Mark Rudinshtein announced that 1999 would be his last year with fest in his present capacity, as he moves on to take up new roles in territory’s production and exhibition market.