ODESSA, Ukraine — Ukraine’s Odessa Intl. Film Festival kicked off Friday with a glitzy opening at the city’s opulent Opera House, where Serbian director Emir Kusturica was presented with the fest’s trophy, the Golden Duke, for life-time achievement.
Kusturica said that Odessa held a particular significance for him because of “Battleship Potemkin,” which was partly shot in the city. To emphasize the point, he later played with his band, The No Smoking Orchestra, on Odessa Steps, which features in the most iconic scene in the film.
The presentation was followed by a screening of Robert Redford starrer “All Is Lost,” which was introduced by one of the pic’s producers, Anna Gerb. Speaking in Russian, she revealed that her grandmother lived in Odessa and Gerb spent time there as a child.
Festival president Victoria Tigipko spoke about the evolution of the young fest, which is in its fourth year, emphasizing its shift toward being an event focused on audience participation. One result of this was to have the audience choose the winner of the Golden Duke for best film.
“In the last year we have found the correct format and made it about the audience — now you define the winner,” Tigipko said.
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The international jury awards its own prizes. It is headed by Russia’s top film producer Alexander Rodnyansky, whose credits include “Cloud Atlas” and “Jayne Mansfield’s Car,” and also includes British producer Tanya Seghatchian, Georgian helmer-actress Nana Djordjadze, German thesp Franziska Petri and Ukrainian scribe Andrey Kurkov.
“There are cities that change the future of a country, and Odessa is one of them,” Rodnyansky said. “And there are events that change the fate of a city, and the Odessa Intl. Film Festival is such an event.”
Another focus of the fest is the Summer Film School, where students will listen to masterclasses from many of the international guests, including Kusturica, Rodnyansky, Seghatchian, who will speak about her work adapting the “Harry Potter” books, Czech helmer Jiri Menzel, who will speak about directing comedies, U.K. directors Michael Winterbottom and Mark Cousins, Austrian helmer Ulrich Seidl and U.S. vet helmer Roger Corman.
Winterbottom is being feted with a retrospective of his work.
The opening ceremony was hosted by popular Ukrainian TV presenters Alexey Sukhanov and Masha Efrosinina.
The fest wraps July 20.