Moscow should "winter up" a relegated film festival

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Anatoly Korolev) - The 28th Moscow International Film Festival, which starts on Friday and goes until July 2, opened uneasily after celebrity Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke, in a last-minute caprice, refused to chair its grand jury.

The fate of 17 films, including one from Russia - Alexei Muradov's "The Worm" - will now be decided, after Russian cinema guru and festival organizer Nikita Mikhalkov chastised Haneke in an open letter for what he described as "dishonest" behavior, by the Polish writer and filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski.

The Pole, who has been in the spotlight recently for his relationship with prominent French actress Sophie Marceau, who has left France (and, largely, the movie business) and given birth to his son, will preside over a jury which includes Russian filmmaker Alexei Uchitel, British actress Julie Christie, and French critic Pierre-Henri Deleau.

The sideline Russian program will consist of 96 films, one of which, Nikolai Khomerika's "977", has just arrived from Cannes. For the opener, MIFF selected "The Promise", a film by Chinese director Chen Kaige, whose 'Farewell My Concubine' won the 1993 Palme d'Or in Cannes.

The festival's opening has, sadly, highlighted MIFF's rather low standing in the global cinema industry. MIFF, technically a Class A festival, ranks way behind Venice, Berlin, and Cannes and, according to its executive director Alexander Kotelevsky, is run on a budget of a mere 90 million rubles ($3.34 million, or �2.63 million), three times as low as a normal event would cost. This, however, is just part of the problem.

Zulawski deserves credit for his tactful reply to the unpleasant question about Moscow's ranking in the top cinema league, and there is much sense in what he pointed out. Describing the Moscow Film Festival as one of the most significant in the world, he added that June and July are hardly months associated with Russia. Our trademarks are winter and snow, which means we should hold our festival somewhere around December.

Just recall the opening pages of G.G. Marques's One Hundred Years of Solitude, where people from a tropical climate are fascinated by what to them is a miracle, but in this country would look like just another piece of ice.

Ice is what our festival should be all about. For example, why not arrange the whole event onboard a nuclear icebreaker headed for the North Pole? Such a festival would make headlines across the globe, and it is largely headlines that showbiz people are looking for.

No matter if it looks a little bizarre right now; the point is that the Moscow Film Festival must have its own, preferably eye-catching and bold, face. We don't have a La Croisette; we don't have Venetian canals. So what? We have cold and snow and ice and wind, so that is the only playing field clearly tilted to our side. We also have Tsarskoe Selo, the magnificent former imperial residence near St. Petersburg, the host city of the upcoming G8 Summit, as a potential venue.

Our current venue, though, is a sweltering summertime Moscow where the main events will be held downtown, in Novy Arbat, at the newly rebuilt Oktyabr cinema center, which offers a magnificent view of one of Moscow's longest, most notorious, and most persistent traffic jams.

The huge black cloud of Novy Arbat car exhaust still has a silver lining. After all, Russian cinema definitely has a past and a present. The Moscow festival's past lies in its founders, Pavel Chukhrai, Sergei Bondarchuk, Mikhail Kalatozov and others, and in the scores of Cannes, Venice, and Berlin prizes Russians have won. Its present lies in the rising economic power and identity of the national movie industry; the U.S. cinema group MIPAA has estimated last year's box office revenues across Russia at $350 million, a third of this amount spent on Russian films. Russian cinema simply has too great a past and too vibrant a present to hold out no hope for the future.

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