Some exciting things are brewing on St. Petersburg’s New Holland Island, where history and culture converge. Founded at the same time as the city itself, the island was mainly used for military purposes for more than 300 years. But in 2010, entrepreneurs and philanthropists Roman Abramovich and Daria Zhukova formed the initiative New Holland: Cultural Urbanization to develop it as a site for cultural programs and grand civic initiatives.

Among the most anticipated events is the New Holland Island Intl. Debut Film Festival, whose mission is to support original and distinctive creative visions and to introduce new names to a wider audience. Although its inaugural juried competition will take place July 14-19, a three-day preview version in July 2019 drew an enthusiastic audience to screenings, workshops from the major Russian film schools, and public talks by filmmakers and producers.

Under the leadership of festival president Alexander Rodnyansky, the producer of Oscar nominated films “Leviathan” and “Loveless,” and program director Alexey Artamonov, a wellrespected curator and critic, the preview laid out their curatorial line: to show daring works that open new frontiers and expand established formats. In future editions, they will also create further context with special screenings of fiction and documentary films from established directors, as well as an extensive education and entertainment program.

The festival team is deep in preparation for their upcoming event. The main competition will be comprised of first and second fiction features completed in 2019 and 2020. The shorts lineup will include documentary, experimental and fiction works from directors who have not yet made their feature debut. Program director Artamonov expects nine titles in the main competition and around 40 in the shorts. In the main section, a top prize of €15,000 ($16,300) will be awarded, as well as a €10,000 ($10,900) jury prize. Three short film awards of €5,000 ($5,430) will also be distributed.

“Our festival aims to become a major film event in the city, focused primarily on cross-disciplinary, boundary-pushing and experimental forms of young cinema,” Artamonov says.

“At the same time, we’re going to deal with acute social issues in the program of special screenings, with discussions concerning problems beyond cinema.”

Among the team’s biggest challenge for now is keeping their aesthetic standards high and inviting only films that represent truly distinct auteur voices. Their next major step will be to build a solid connection between this type of filmmaking and the local audience, as well as among local streaming and theatrical exhibitors. And they have big ambitions. Artamonov notes, “In a few years, we hope to launch a pitching platform for debut film projects; to expand our activity to the field of production; and other kinds of support for bold new filmmakers.”