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Russian fest embraces commercial fare

'Sara,' 'Driving Lessons' pass Moscow test

MOSCOW – Commercial fare found favor at the Moscow Intl. Film Festival, which closed July 2, while arthouse pic went home empty-handed.

Top Gold St. George prize went to Swedish pic “About Sara” from Uganda-born debut helmer Othman Karim.

The special jury prize went to debut helmer Jeremy Brock, for the Brit’s “Driving Lessons,” which also gar-nered the Russian critics’ jury award and audience prize, as well as best actress for Julie Walters.

Best actor nom went to Jens Hanzer for his role in German pic “Running on Empty” by Bulent Akinci, also a debut, while Gallic vet Bertrand Blier took best director for “How Much Do You Love Me?”

Jury prexy Polish director Andrzey Zulawski explained the rationale behind the jury’s decisions: “Would you buy a ticket to the film you choose?”

The FIPRESCI prize went to the adventurous Philippines entry “The Bet Collector” by Jeffrey Jeturian, with local film clubs saluting Raoul Ruiz for his Austrian-French-U.K. biopic “Klimt.”

Sole Russian entry, Alexei Muradov’s “The Worm,” took no awards.

In the parallel Perspectives competish program, the single prize – with $10,000 and 10,000 meters of Kodak film stock attached – was awarded to Uzbek director Yolkin Tuychiev for “Spring.”

Perspectives jury prexy Czech helmer Petr Zelenka didn’t sound enthusiastic about the program’s quality, saying from the stage, “We enjoyed ourselves more than we enjoyed the films.”

Overall, results had critics repeating that the event – this year conveniently headquartered in central Moscow’s Oktyabr multiplex – had again failed to find a convincing image for itself, despite the change in festival selectors.

Many competish pics had been released in other countries long before their Moscow screenings.

Lack of Russian product in main programs – despite a boom year for local production in both commercial and arthouse strands – looked gaping, making it clear that territory’s helmers are pitching, with success, for other international fests rather than allying themselves to Moscow.

The fact that a number of Russian directors — including event’s 2003 prizewinner Boris Khlebnikov (“Roads to Koktebel”) — weren’t even accredited for the fest made any chance of behind-the-scenes contact distinctly limited, with producers, both local and international, notably absent.

Given that Russian is arguably the world’s fastest-growing exhib market, that factor — together with the lack of a market — looks like a major shortcoming that the fest has to overcome.

Two gala premieres repping local product turned out to be distinctly unimpressive. “Festival” from Vasily Pichul (“Little Vera”) should have hit some local buttons — pic is a musical based around intrigues at a perestroika-era Moscow film fest, but despite some comic moments auds were departing the late night screening (held over by an hour) in early reels.

The other, Yury Cara’s 1994 adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel “Master and Margarita,” finally saw the light of day after 12 years of dispute with pic’s producer. That screening (also held over an hour) went out with the tightest possible, and unprecedented for Russia, antipiracy control – but despite performances from some leading local thesps, Russia’s pirates are more discriminating than to bother with the likes of Cara’s pic.

Although phonein response to one local culture radio station stated that 73% of respondents believed MIFF was more about stars and glamour than about cinema, star presence was more than muted in comparison with previous years.

Chinese director Chen Kaige opened event with a screening of “The Promise,” and Jacqueline Bisset paid a flying visit.

Closing major award, the Konstan-tin Stanislavsky: I Believe acknowledgement, went to thesp Gerard Depardieu. Award was presented by Oleg Tabakov, director of Stanislavsky’s pioneering Moscow Arts Theater, with Depardieu responded with a free-flowing speech from stage.

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