Local pic’s Moscow laurel draws fire

Crix attack Uchitel as having best ties, not best pic

MOSCOW — A spat has blown up in Russian film circles over whether local helmer Alexei Uchitel’s “Dreaming of Space” deserved to win the top Gold St. George prize at this month’s Moscow Film Festival.

Many fear its selection is a return to the bad old days when competitions were rigged to give local films the accolades rather than superior foreign films.

Film critic Andrei Plakhov, recently elected prexy of international film crix body Fipresci, is one of many journalists who have raised this question. They assert that Uchitel’s film wasn’t the best work in a competition program acknowledged to be of a much higher standard than in recent years.

Circumstances, and the complicated loyalties that directors build with fests, suggest a grain of truth to their assertions.

Uchitel’s “The Stroll” opened the Moscow fest in 2003 but came away without a prize. The film had been heavily endorsed by fest prexy Nikita Mikhalkov, although the event’s chief selector, Kirill Razlogov, was less than happy with its inclusion.

This year Mikhalkov expressed admiration for “Dreaming.” Shortly after, Uchitel withdrew the film from rival national film competition Kinotavr so that it could debut at Moscow.

At the fest’s closing Sunday, jury prexy Valentin Chernykh (who wrote last year’s winner “Our Own”), stressed that the jury decision was unanimous.

However, onstage Mikhalkov acknowledged that “the decision was risky, but absolutely correct in view of the fact that the Russian film industry is going through a rebirth, something he stressed at fest’s June 17 opening.

Arguably, Arie Posin’s U.S.-made “The Chumscrubber,” which bowed at Sundance, was better placed to win. It took the audience and Russian Film Club prizes for Posin, who is a second-generation Russian emigrant.

The issue isn’t going to go away. Given local sensitivities, fest selectors will continue to be grilled by critics who pay as much attention to an absence of Russian pics as they do to overabundance.

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