KinoKultura: Issue 34 (2011)

Kinotavr 2011: Russian Cinema as a State of Mind

By Birgit Beumers and Nancy Condee (Bristol and Pittsburgh)

Russian Cultural Space
The Twenty-Second Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr (4-11 June 2011) has issued a provocative challenge to the ways in which we conceive of Russian cinema. This year the limits of the competition were defined as “the space of Russian culture,” regardless of the filming location: films that are “in Russian, filmed by a Russian director, no matter where he or she lives,” as Aleksandr Rodnianskii, President of the Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr puts it in his letter to guests of the festival (Catalogue 4). This 2011 shift to “Russian cultural space” is a welcome change that allows for the uncontested recognition of a process already in play through the increasingly stable circulation of resources, talent, and production schedules across the globe, between homeland and diasporic film communities.

letitThe new shift in Kinotavr’s profile is not—in a literal sense—a turn toward “internationalism,” but rather a new insistence that Russian national cinema—by the very nature of filmmaking—increasingly extends beyond the customs desks of the federation’s borders. We see this shift in the biographies of the younger directors. Fuad Ibragimbekov, co-director with Sergei Shvydkoi of Fly By (Letit), studied directing at the Film School of the University of Southern California. Angelina Nikonova, director of Twilight Portrait (Portret v sumerkakh), studied film at the School of Visual Arts, Department of Film and Video at New York University. Dmitrii Povolotskii, director of My Father Baryshnikov (Moi papa Baryshnikov) studied at Julliard, worked as a dancer in the Metropolitan Opera, and studied film at Columbia University, where his 2008 diploma film PAL/SECAM was completed and subsequently awarded the Grand Prix in the 2008 Short Film Competition at Kinotavr in 2008.

To describe this shift as the “internationalization of Kinotavr,” therefore, would be wrong on several accounts, not the least of which being that Kinotavr was always, in one sense or another, international. One of a very few festivals strategically positioned to sustain a counterpoint-dialogue with the major A festivals (Cannes, Venice, Locarno, Berlin and others), it has played a critical role in the advancement of films beyond domestic distribution, where their success record is high. Kinotavr Artistic Director Sitora Alieva has estimated that about eighty per cent of Kinotavr’s debuted films enter into some level of domestic distribution.

Beyond domestic distribution, Kinotavr has long provided a vital link with global festivals, including for Russian films overlooked domestically the first time round. A recent example of such local disregard was Aleksei Mizgirev’s Buben, Baraban (2009), which met domestic critical indifference (and no prizes from the Kinotavr jury), but went on (from its exposure at Kinotavr) to win the Silver Leopard, as well as the Special Jury Prize, at the prestigious 2009 Locarno International Film Festival. Kinotavr is not unique in this respect: on a smaller scale, Filmfestival Cottbus and Wiesbaden’s goEast Festival of Central and Eastern European film have also served as strategic launching sites, anchoring regional events to global festivals. Kinotavr is the most successful example of this critical relay between global and local.

patriaThis 2011 shift of emphasis (“Russian language, Russian director”) has not only facilitated the inclusion of entries from the Russian diaspora (erstwhile or permanent), but also the uncontested admission—to choose a noteworthy example—of documentary work such as Vitalii Manskii’s film on Cuba, Patria o muerte (Rodina ili smert’). The result is a robust and lively set of offerings, of which the 2011 Selection Committee—Sitora Alieva (Kinotavr’s Program Director), Irina Liubarskaia (Itogi), Alena Solntseva (Moskovskie novosti), Viktoriia Belopol’skaia (TV Channel Kul’tura), and Evgenii Gusiatinskii (Iskusstvo kino)—should be justifiably proud. It is symptomatic of an increasingly healthy film environment that the selectors of this year’s competition were able to broaden the portfolio of offerings beyond the usual staple of auteur and experimental films to several examples of polished, mainstream, genre films that signal the greater stability and reliable production schedule of a robust industry. From a 2010-2011 harvest of 68 films, 14 were chosen for the June 2011 festival. Of these, half were debut films. While the quantity of full-length films has struggled to remain steady, and the number of new shorts has significantly increased from 158 shorts in 2009-2010 to 238 shorts in 2010-2011.

The Absurdity of Life, in Short(s)

vroda This year’s “Kinotavr. Short” Competition therefore had good reason for pride, and selector and curator Irina Liubarskaia has accomplished a true feat in putting together such a succinct selection of films, displaying a diversity of styles, themes and illustrious names—the latter maybe for the first time in the shorts’ program. Three “stars” appeared on the schedule: Mosfilm director Karen Shakhnazarov’s son Ivan, presently a student of the Film Institute VGIK, offered a fine psychological thriller entitled Without Words (Bez slov), about a German and a Soviet soldier who encounter one another in a forest during WWII. The two make careful approaches, establish contact, and eventually swap food and drink—until an advancing army puts them in a situation where the only slowly emerging humane features are abruptly annihilated: a soldier remains a soldier, the enemy remains the enemy. The film reveals the director’s skill in working with actors, but some gestures appear a little worn and the film as a whole feels somewhat long-drawn. Another film that was star-studded—at least by the time it reached Sochi—was Maryna Vroda’s Cross (Ukraine/France), which had screened in Cannes and won the 2011 Palme d’Or for Best Short. The stylish film follows the tracks of a train, crowds of people, amidst them two girls: one carries a baby. Finally, creating something of a “rush” to see the film, was the directorial debut of the famous and much-loved actor Dmitrii Diuzhev, who showed BROTHERhood (BratIia) about two children who perpetually fight. Their father has to devise a plan to force them to make peace. This fine story is decently acted, even if the film does not stand out for experimental or innovative methods, placing instead the emphasis on a psychological exploration of the parent-child relationship.

directorsIndeed, the theme of generational conflict and of maturation informed many films of the shorts competition: for example, VGIK student Valentina Iakovleva’s Mine, Yours (Moe-tvoe), which had already screened at Kinoproba in Ekaterinburg in December 2010. The film, also focusing on the acting skills, deals with a single mum renting out the small family’s only room to summer lodgers in order to make ends meet. However, her young son Vovka has to make sacrifices: he is no longer at the centre of her attention, but he also has to vacate his room and leave behind his favorite toy: the model of a ship. And the lodgers have a son of his age, who has lots of things that Vovka can only dream of—but is fascinated by the model. The initial animosity soon turns into friendship, as the camera finely observes that process. Similarly, in another VGIK diploma film, Ol’ga Tomenko demonstrates her fine understanding of the child’s psyche. In Reaching out to Mama (Dotianut’sia do mamy) a little girl feels unloved by her mother: her parents quibble, her older brother is allowed to do more things than she is, and there are enough everyday worries to keep everybody busy. The girl wishes bad things on her mum for not being allowed to do the things she wants, in particular for being told off after dragging home some stray puppies. Her curse, wishing for her parents not to return from a nocturnal fishing trip, turns into fear, and the film successfully veers towards the style of a horror movie. The little girl wants to undo her curse and imagines all sorts of things—until her parents return home in the morning, and life returns to its normal routine. Only that the girl now cherishes her mum…. In a way, Tomenko uses a fairy tale structure: the loved mother becomes a stepmother (or monster) when she is too demanding, until the little girl grows up and understands.

no problemStyle exercises could be found in a number of films: Marina Boltneva is an actress, currently training as theatre director. Her film Maniac Manners of Miss Isolde K (Maniakal’nye proiavleniia Miss Izol’dy K.) clearly shows her interest in acting and style, revealed in behavior and costumes. A woman dresses in style of 20s and follows a man: she is a photographer, a female stalker. The film, however, is somewhat long drawn and lacks a sense of dramaturgy, while the object of stalking changes without much motivation offered to the viewer. Similarly, actor Ivan Stebunov, who now studies on the Higher Courses for Scriptwriters and Directors, also engages in an exercise in style in his Number Seven (Sed’moi), playing with the production drama of the 1970s which, however, turns into a romantic story. A new trolleybus-driver sees a girl on the bus. While he is happy in his work collective, he pursues his dream girl in his visions, even if in reality the dream girl is a prostitute. He imagines himself and her in the trolleybus in an open field for an (unmotivated) fairy-tale ending, as if she were rescued by her prince on a white horse, or on the trolleybus Number Seven…

krepezhaThe Film Institute VGIK can clearly be proud of its students: its graduate Mikhail Segal’s The World of Fixture (Mir krepezha) is not only a welcome film amidst the competition, if only for its brilliant and witty dialogue. In a business meeting in a restaurant a young couple hires a professional agency to plan their wedding and married life; Andrei Merzlikin’s acting clearly helps the film, which deservedly won the main prize of the shorts competition. The static setting does not prevent the entertainment derived from the text in a professional film from the director who, in 2006, debuted in full-length feature films with Franz+Polina. Not so successful is the work of another VGIK graduate, Masha Agranovich, who offered her film No Problem. Agranovich had spent some time in New York before returning to Russia. The film uses a conventional voiceover technique as it follows a man in search of love. Impressive is only the yuppie setting and the bohemian lifestyle, but there are other films here that showed this milieu rather more impressively. Nevertheless, the film won a diploma in the shorts competition for its “mature youth”.  

more zhelaniiAnother director with experience of working abroad is Nika Belianina, a photographer who lives in Canada. Her extraordinary film Butterflies of Trip City stands out from the competition with an unconventional, impressionistic story, but also because of its costumes and its use of mixed media. Belianina has created a series of images that could be a hallucination, or an apocalyptic vision of the future: a world in which nature is seen as evil and butterflies are kept in cages—with all the interpretations in terms of environmentalist issues and the suppression of individuality in the modern world that go with it. Protest is not welcome, and everything that cannot be controlled must therefore be destroyed, including nature. Belianina suggests the departure from the norm as necessary for happiness and freedom. Similarly, Shota Gamisoniya’s Sea of Desires (More zhelanii) is a story set in Moscow; however, the city is located on the seaside and near the mountains, which is how people imagine life in their native Georgia, projecting their dreams onto the reality of the here-and-now.

Another extraordinary (and escapist) film is Ice Age (Lednikovyi period) by Andrei Griazev, the former ice-skater and ice dance champion, who turned into a photographer and here presents his debut in filmmaking. In a derelict house a room is packed with fridges and freezers while a man (Podolskii) stands in the water of a little pool that does not freeze—despite all the cooling devices. When workers intrude to fix the electricity in the house, he is electrocuted. Yet in his final vision he is liberated and finally back on the ice. His dream-come-true stands in sharp contradiction and contrast to the man’s real physiognomy: the part is played by the flabby Aleksei Podolskii—the antithesis of a skater and famous from Sergei Loban’s Dust (Pyl’; and more recently Chapiteau Show, 2011). His death also stands as a metaphor for the coldness of emotions that destroy man.

podrobnostiLast not least is the film to which the Jury of the Guild of Russian Film Critics awarded the main (and its only) prize, and which received a diploma of the Short Film jury: Mikhail Mestetskii’s Insignificant Details of an Accidental Episode (Neznachitelnye podrobnosti sluchainogo epizoda). His film creates a most powerful metaphor for the inactivity forced upon the Soviet citizen, the lethargy of modern man, or the concept of stagnation in its reductio ad absurdum. Two trains come to a standstill on a narrow stretch of land connecting an island with the main land. Through an opening shutter a man (Kirill Kiaro) sees a beautiful girl traveling with her parents on the other train. As he waits to catch another glimpse of the dream girl, he plays with some sugar cubes, drinks his tea, east his food, flirts with the hostess, who becomes pregnant; they have more and more children, whilst on the other train the girl’s father dies and the family buries him in a coffin made from a train seat. Days, weeks, months, years—entire lives pass as people sit on the train, waiting for it to move. Nobody takes any action… and life becomes no more than a gap-filler: out of awkwardness and convenience, people make do with the situation in which they appear to be stuck—but are they really? Again and again the film captures the two trains: in the darkness, at sunrise and at sunset; it captures the protagonists, who wilt away as we watch, as if we were seeing a sped-up version of their (and our) lives. And Kiaro’s unperturbed face is an amazing achievement. The film is an independent production, and one can only hope that Mestetskii is in line for a full-length debut soon so he can demonstrate to the full his skills in cinematography, acting and editing, as well as scriptwriting—as has been the case for many previous short film competition winners and participants at Kinotavr.

Opening, Closing and Art-House Inbetween

2 days Those who like well-wrought, mainstream cinema will enjoy the festival’s choice for its Opening film. Avdot’ia Smirnova’s Two Days (Dva dnia) is a romantic comedy about a provincial literary museum in danger of foreclosure at the hands of the greedy regional governor, who would tear it down for a lucrative housing development. The highlight of the film is the performance by Kseniia Rappoport, whose grace and charm underwrites any film in which she appears; in this film, her partner is Fedor Bondarchuk. This film, together with Avdot’ia Smirnova’s earlier work Relation (Sviaz’, 2004), singles out the filmmaker as a talent for whom romantic drama is a particularly strong suit. Her new film adds to an emerging inventory of work on the complex social web of conventional romance. The choice of Smirnova’s film for Opening Night was coordinated to the award for lifetime achievement, “for Honor and Merit,” given to her father, director and actor Andrei Smirnov—even if his own new film Once there Lived an Old Woman (Zhila-byla odna baba) did not screen in Sochi. The award and Opening Night were subsequently paired by the Closing Night choice, Andrei Zviagintsev’s film Elena (2011), in which Smirnov plays one of the two the lead roles.

hunterZviagintsev’s Elena, screened out of competition for Closing Night, was one of two distinctly auteurist offerings of the festival. The second, Bakur Bakuradze’s The Hunter (Okhotnik), was among Kinotavr’s competition films, but its natural pairing with Zviagintsev’s film was striking. Both films were screened at Cannes IFF in the sidebar “Un Certain Regard” in 2011.Those who are incurably devoted to elite cinema will count themselves lucky this year for two such strong offerings, worthy of attention both as isolated film texts and as the next directorial move in the individual artistic biography of these two directors. Bakuradze’s The Hunter is a thoughtful, slow-paced portrait of a farmer and his family, including an invalid son. The narrative, set in deliberately ill-defined coordinates of time and space, takes on the quality of myth, its pacing set so as to offer an opportunity for the viewer to speculate about the inner life of the characters whose feelings, motivations, and judgments remain strategically opaque. In its larger dimensions, the film might be said to be about the unknowability of the human spirit and the complexity of the emotional links that bind its hero to his family and lover.

Of interest (and less so…)

Among the most interesting entries in competition was Angelina Nikonova’s Twilight Portrait, a psychological drama with a distinct Western art-house feel to it: a chilly and detached observation of gender roles; an agnostic non-commitment to moral persuasion; a directorial bravery about the heroine’s self-realization in ways that social norms might dismiss as demeaning, masochistic, or simply implausible. Were this a Western film altogether—in the banal sense of production conditions—it might be dubbed (not without justification, but also without censure) as post-feminist cinema. In Russia, an environment where feminism is a marginal and trivial pursuit, the film is an uneasy and confounding statement about gender essentialism, class privilege, and the culture of acquisition. Marcia Landy’s review of Twilight Portrait will provide a more thorough examination of the film’s core problematic. Apart from gender issues, the film is likely to remain a critical touchstone for larger conversations about a turning point in Russian film production, when distinct hybrids emerge from the more intense coordination of the diasporic community with the domestic industry resources.

gromozekaOne of the strongest entries in the 2011 competition was Vladimir Kott’s dark comedy Gromozeka, which had already garnered recognition by being selected for the Rotterdam IFF earlier in the year, considered by many critics to be a certain contender for the top prize. Kott’s work is an intelligent, gentle film with tremendous capacity for broad commercial appeal. It was therefore with some shock and disappointment that those same critics watched the film leave without a single prize, despite the fact that it was by far the best positioned for broad box-office exposure.

Another strong entry for Kinotavr 2011 was the only documentary in the list of fourteen films. Vitalii Manskii is arguably the best-known Russian documentary filmmaker; his activism and provocative advocacy of documentary film has reinvigorated multiple aspects of the industry, including competition guidelines, training of young directors, and the politics of the profession more broadly. His documentary Patria o muerte is the result of a lengthy film project in Cuba, where his footage uncompromisingly documents the legacy of the Marxist-Leninist experiment. His camera is both affectionate and brutal as it registers the quotidian realities of existence, from the bureaucracy of burying the dead to the celebration of a youthful wedding. Manskii’s Cuba is an astonishing portrait of a culture that has been left out of the 21st century, retaining many of the security and surveillance practices of the Soviet era.

babloInevitably, the festival included some disappointing entries. Konstantin Buslov’s directorial debut, the crime comedy Dosh (Bablo), is a loud, conventional drama set in contemporary Moscow, a city of stolen Euros, fast cars, and classy molls. Perhaps the audience’s expectations are too high: Konstantin Buslov had acted (as himself) in his brother Petr Buslov’s superb crime drama Bimmer (Bumer, 2003) and the name-recognition may have set the bar higher than Konstantin could reach. Another disappointment was Fuad Ibragimbekov’s and Sergei Shvydkoi’s Fly By, a slick portrait of the high-flying television priviligentsia. The film never manages to distance itself from the very smugness it would skewer. The film’s collection of vapid, unsympathetic characters overwhelms any effort to present a credible alternative; the filmmaking style conspires on the side of slickness and surface values to leave the viewer wondering why one would pay attention to the milieu it depicts.

exerciseOther entries were entertaining but flawed efforts. Viktor Shamirov is a well-known figure in multiple professions: a student of Mark Zakharov’s workshop at GITIS, he went on to a successful directing career in several Moscow studios and theatres, and recently acting in such major films as Vladimir Khotinenko’s 1612 (2007) and Aleksandr Proshkin’s Miracle (Chudo, 2009). Practice in Beauty (Uprazhnenie v prekrasnom) is Shamirov’s second film. His expansive and creative presence on the screen dominates his film in ways that are alternately captivating and exhausting. His larger-than-life personality overwhelms a film that is already a showcase of outsized acting styles and performative episodes. The film’s pitch and pacing becomes unbearable by its final scenes. The surplus of talent collected for this film is impressive, but it does not allow the viewer a reprieve to appreciate anew its voluble and attention-grabbing gifts.

Nostalgia

baryshnikov Nostalgic appeal, a staple of Russian cinema, was evident in two films in particular: Dmitrii Povolotskii’s and Mark Drugoi’s My Father Baryshnikov is set in Moscow in 1986, when a young gawky dancer, Boria Fishkin, comes to believe that he is the son of the renegade dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, a delusion that allows him to individuate from his older, overbearing classmates and concentrate instead on his own dance signature. The film carefully attends to the atmosphere of early perestroika in its setting and props, such that the boy’s dawning adolescent consciousness becomes a light-handed parable about coming to political awareness in the early years of the perestroika era. A second artful and sentimental journey is Aleksandr Gordon’s Brothel Lights (Ogni pritona), set in Odessa of 1958. A richly outfitted journey backwards to daily life in small “family-run” brothel, the film is reminiscent of Federico Fellini’s 1973 Amarcord, set in a small Italian town along the coast in the 1930s. As different as Baryshnikov and Brothel Lights may be, they share a thoughtful attention to the dated minutiae of daily life. The costume design and props support the fantasy they offer to the viewer; both films deserve substantial distribution as professional, mainstream cinema.

indifferenceBy contrast, another journey into the Soviet past is deliberately stripped of nostalgic affect. The cool, neo-realist stylization of Oleg Fliangol’ts’s Indifference (Bezrazlichie) is set in the 1960s. Fliangol’ts’s edgy, Warholesque drama, with its hipster Moscow setting, is inter-spliced with 1960s-style animation that marks it as an idiosyncratic, auteur film. With a complex production fate that delayed the film for twenty years, Indifference is a confounding piece of cinema, worth critical attention, but open-ended in its artistic strategies and choices.

Idiosyncrasy and Adaptation

bedouin An equally confounding entry was Igor’ Voloshin’s The Bedouin (Beduin). For viewers who remember Voloshin’s Nirvana (2008) and I (Ia, 2009), this film is a difficult fit with the director’s earlier signature. Its ethical and mystical afflatus, its improbable narrative turns, and its visionary aspirations were difficult for the skeptical viewer; at the same time, its visual sweep and eye for exotic detail, as well as its brave narrative moves, mark it as a film worth watching.

Another idiosyncratic effort was Roman Karimov’s Into Smithereens (Vdrebezgi), described by the director as a trash film. This is, in fact, a useful characterization: Karimov’s effort is an act of voluntary self-exile. Trash films historically migrate to the edge of mainstream cinema through their choice of subject matter, their modest budgets, their evident (sometimes self-congratulatory) stylistic flaws, and their unapologetically feral politics. Karimov’s work is no different. It veers from adolescent brattiness to a kind of cheerful anarchy that one can only applaud. To the extent that the Selection Committee’s job is to display the diversity of contemporary Russian cinema, Into Smithereens is a valuable entry in this inventory of styles.

dry valleyFrom time to time, Soviet and post-Soviet adaptation of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century classics has been the mainstay of cinema. While not as dominant as it had been, for example, in the early 1990s, adaptation at Kinotavr 2011 is represented by one strong entry. Aleksandra Strelianaia’s The Dry Valley (Sukhodol) is adapted from Ivan Bunin’s story of the same title, portraying the intricate class relations of servant and nobility on an isolated Russian country estate, where superstition, custom, and premonition prevail. In the subsequent press conference, young director Aleksandra Strelianaia took a vigorous drubbing for her interpretation of the Bunin work. The objections claimed inter alia that she was too preoccupied with ethnographic minutia at the expense of the writer’s intent; that she was insensitive to the muted political polemics of the story. Strelianaia held her own during the scolding and insisted on her right to move forward with a very different screen adaptation of Bunin’s work. Indeed, on its own terms, the film deserves a wider audience. Iana Esipovich’s acting is stunning and the film, Strelianaia’s first, first-length feature, is the best of adaptation cinema.

Special Events

Several invaluable Special Courses were offered throughout the festival. A high point of this series was the master class by director Claire Denis, organized by film scholar Natal’ia Nusinova. A lead auteur director in her own right, Denis has a provenance that reads like a history of cinema: she has worked closely with such leading figures as Dusan Makavejev, Jacques Rivette, Konstantinos Costa-Gavras, Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch. Best known for her 1988 Cannes entry Chocolate (Chocolat), her directorial signature is well suited to several threads in contemporary Russian cinema, where silence, subdued narrative pacing, and strong visual language predominate over verbal exchange. As Nusinova has argued, Denis’s cinematic style is “rendered through the poetics of silence, where the word becomes an element of the noise recordings rather than a component of the film’s semantics” (Catalogue66). Denis’s master class was accompanied by a screening of her 2009 war drama White Material.

eastern driftA second Special Course—on the technology of film language—was offered by jury member Pavel Kostomarov, whose recent DoP filmography includes two films by Aleksei Popogrebskii’s—How I Ended This Summer (Kak ia provel etim letom, 2010) and Simple Things (Prostye veshchi, 2007)—as well as Aleksei Uchitel’’s The Stroll (Progulka, 2003), and four films by Sergei Loznitsa. Kostomarov’s master class was accompanied by a screening of I Love You (Ia tebia liubliu, 2011), which Kostomarov co-directed with Aleksandr Rastorguev.

Additional Special Courses were offered by scriptwriter Iurii Korotkov (“The Hero in Cinema”); director Svetlana Proskurina (“Kinotavr: Shorts”); and Lithuanian director Sharunas Bartas (“Authorship in Cinema”). Bartas’s course was coordinated with a screening of his Eastern Drift (Indigène d’Eurasie/ Evraziets 2010), included in Andrei Plakhov’s selections for the program “Summer Euphoria”.

Plakhov’s program was—as ever—one of the most interesting aspects of Kinotavr. His contribution each year is invaluable precisely because he works against the grain: while Artistic Director Sitora Alieva brings her indefatigable talents to bear on transforming a diverse selection of contemporary films into a coherent and intelligible program, Andrei Plakhov takes the opposite tack: What does not fit the rubric by which the festival selections have been operating? What has been left out? What do we not see?

In this year’s “Euphoria,” subtitled “Between Poland and China,” Plakhov takes as his guide the words of Thaw poet Iunna Morits—“with a cradle and a rattle / We wander, bloom, and wither / Between the Arctic and Kushka, / Between Poland and China”—to explore the former Soviet space as an environment that still bears traces of cohesion for film production. These common challenges—“the difficulties of the adaptation of auteur cinema to the market system; the imperfection and weakness of state financing; a far-from-perfect distribution network; the opposition to various forms of censorship and uneasy attitudes to state orders” (Catalogue 73)—lend an inadvertent commonality to the films of this region.

elenaPlakhov’s “Poland-to-China” selections included The Light Thief (Svet-Ake) by Kyrgyz director Aktan Arym Kubat (Abdykalykov), Massacre by Belarusian director Andrei Kudinenko, and two Kazakh selections: Letters to an Angel (Pis’ma k angelu) by Ermek Shinarbaev and My Dear Children (Dorogie moi deti) by Zhanna Issabaeva. Together with Lithuanian director Sharunas Bartas’s Eastern Drift, these offerings were an invaluable cluster documenting the enduring ways in which the distinct marks of cinema production, fostered and thwarted under the diverse conditions of Soviet socialism, produced a distinct set of recurrent preoccupations.

Finally, three other programs deserve mention. Sergei Lavrent’ev, the highly regarded film historian and critic, curated “Something about Efficiency,” dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Twenty-Second Congress of the CPSU, featuring classic work by Viktor Sokolov, Iurii Egorov, Grigorii Chukhrai, Viktor Tregubovich, Il’ia Gurin, Vladimir Vengerov, Vladimir Basov, and Aleksei Sakharov.

“Leningrad Cinema as a History of Adaptations” was curated by the two of the most interesting scholars of the younger generation, Petr Bagrov and Anna Kovalova. Their program raised challenging questions about the status of screen adaptations both as a genre unto itself and as a practice with particular resonance for the cinema of Leningrad and St. Petersburg, where “Chekhov, Leskov and Shakespeare feature not just as accomplices, but also as contemporaries” (Catalogue122). Their selections include feature-film classics by Il’ia Averbakh and Iosif Kheifits, as well as drawn animation by Mikhail Tsekhanovskii and Vladislav Tvardovskii.

A third valuable contribution, “Italian Shorts,” was offered by producer Ul’iana Kovaleva, in collaboration with the experienced and talented Venice International Film Festival selector Alena Shumakova, who presented films inspired in part by work done at Rome’s Experimental Centre of Cinematography (Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia).

Additional programs featured Russian video art, stars of cinema in advertising, and selections from two festivals: ESF (Extra Short Film), which is marking its eleventh year of competition, and Future Shorts, a ninety-minute program of live-action and animation shorts from around the world.

elkiAs ever, Kinotavr’s “Cinema on the Square” afforded the larger public an opportunity to see box-office cinema from recent years in the context of the industry itself. Selections for these open-air screenings included Viktor Ginzburg’s Generation P (2011) Levan Gabriadze’s Lucky Trouble (Vykrutasy, 2010), Timur Bekmambetov’s Six Degrees of Celebration (Elki, 2010), Aleksei Uchitel’’s The Edge (Krai, 2010), Sergei Ginzburg’s Lovey-Dovey 3 (Liubov’-morkov’ 3, 2011], El’dar Salavatov’s PyraMMMid (PiraMMMida, 2010), and Grigorii Konstantinopol’skii’s The Female (Samka, 2010). For those who had not managed to see it already, Nikita Mikhalkov’s towering epic Citadel: Burnt by the Sun 2 (Utomlennye solntsem 2: Tsitadel’, 2011) was also screened to a large audience.

And the winner is… (de gustibus non est disputandum)
There is no accounting for taste, even among well-seasoned professionals. Such was the verdict at this year’s festival, after which critics and industry figures are still trying to make sense of the jury’s decisions. Lenta.ru had publicly banked on the Kinotavr Grand Prize going to Voloshin’s Bedouin or Bakuradze’s The Hunter. It then stood in line behind a long queue of critics who had guessed wrong.

The 2011 competition jury was led by Aleksandr Mindadze, best known for his work as scriptwriter with director Vadim Abdrashitov, and more recently familiar from his own two films, Soar (Otryv, 2007) and Innocent Saturday (V subbotu, 2011). His colleagues on the jury included the actress Ekaterina Vilkova, actor Iurii Stoianov, producer Sabina Eremeeva, DoP Pavel Kostomarov, director Andrei Proshkin, and film critic Konstantin Shavlovskii. One may disagree with several of jury’s eventual awards—we as critics and cinema scholars are, after all, paid to do exactly that—but there is no question that the jury was a strong demonstration of Russia’s cinema professionalism.

The 2011 Grand Prix was awarded to Oleg Fliangol’ts’s Indifference. Best Directing went to Bakur Bakuradze (The Hunter); his nonprofessional actress, Tat’iana Shapovalova, received Best Actress. The actor Konstantin Iushkevich (Practice in Beauty) was awarded Best Actor; its script team—Gosha Kutsenko, Konstantin Iushkevich and Viktor Shamirov—won Best Script. Best Debut was awarded to Buslov’s Dosh. As usual, it is impossible either to agree or to disagree with the jury’s decision: it is a universe to which we outsiders were not privy, a conversation conducted (quite properly) in our absence.

Does the jury’s decision ever conform to our wishes? Not once so far. But—as in the case of Mizgirev’s Buben, Baraban—the fate of these films is far from decided. Program Director Alieva’s job was to put together a portfolio for the future, and—as we know from Mizgirev’s example—it is impossible to predict the fate of these fourteen 2011 films. The committee’s offerings gave us everything from unequivocal art-house cinema, such Bakuradze’s The Hunter, to unabashedly (and even excellent) commercial efforts, such as Vladimir Kott’s Gromozeka. The success of Kinotavr is evident in the fact that both the arguments and the opportunities are continuing long after the festival carpet is rolled up.  This comment is not merely a final rhetorical flourish: since Kinotavr has finished, Nikonova’s film Twilight Portrait has participated in the Venice Days, gone on to the Toronto IFF and won the Golden Puffin at Reykjavik IFF—ample evidence of the vitality of the contemporary process.

Birgit Beumers
University of Bristol

Nancy Condee
University of Pittsburgh


WINNERS OF THE 22ND OPEN RUSSIAN FILM FESTIVAL KINOTAVR

MAIN PRIZE Indifference, director Oleg Fliangol’ts
BEST DIRECTOR Bakur Bakuradze, Hunter
BEST DEBUT Konstantin Buslov, Dosh
BEST ACTRESS Tatiana Shapovalova, Hunter, director Bakur Bakuradze
BEST ACTOR Konstantin Iushkevich, Practice in Beauty, director Viktor Shamirov
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY Eben Bull, Twilight Portrait, director Angelina Nikonova
GORIN PRIZE FOR BEST SCRIPT Gosha Kutsenko, Viktor Shamirov, Konstantin Iushkevich, Practice in Beauty, director Viktor Shamirov
TARIVERDIEV PRIZE FOR BEST FILM MUSIC Aleksandr Manotskov, My Dad Baryshnikov, directors Dmitrii Povolotskii, Mark Drugoi
SPECIAL JURY DIPLOMA Oksana Fandera (“for the combination of beauty and talent”), Brother Lights, director Aleksandr Gordon
PRIZE OF THE GUILD OF FILM CRITICS AND FILM SCHOLARS “White Elephant” Hunter, director Bakur Bakuradze
DIPLOMA OF THE GUILD OF FILM CRITICS AND FILM SCHOLARS Patria o muerte, director Vitalii Manskii

PRIZE OF THE COMPETITION “KINOTAVR. SHORTS” World of Fixtures, director Mikhail Segal
DIPLOMA OF THE COMPETITION “KINOTAVR. SHORTS” Insignificant Details of an Accidental Episode, director Mikhail Mestetskii (“For intentional details of a significant episode”); and No Problem, director Masha Agranovich (“For mature youth”)
PRIZE OF THE GUILD OF FILM CRITICS AND FILM SCHOLARS “White Elephant” (Kinotavr. Shorts) Insignificant Details of an Accidental Episode, director Mikhail Mestetskii

Birgit Beumers, Nancy Condee © 2011

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Updated: 11 Oct 11