Film scholar and critic Kirill Razlogov about Sochi International Film Festival and Awards (SIFFA)


January 16, 2018

Many consider last cinematic year’s main event to be the box office success in Russia of Russian-made films. This was the first time since 2008 (the year The Irony of Fate 2 came out and doubled the number of viewers by including the older generations) that films made in Russia grossed 25% of total box office revenues. The question is if it is a trend that could significantly affect the upcoming year or a random occurrence?

I have already written about success depending on the total number of top grossing billion-dollar films. If there is just one film, the numbers are low, around 15% of total box office revenue, if there are two – their revenue averages 18–20%, and in case there are three then it is 25% or even more. This year three films did the trick: The Viking (two versions, 12+ and 18+), released at the very end of last year, The Attraction, and the top earner— The Last Warrior (Posledni Bogatyr) (1.7 billion rubles in box office revenue).

It would all be fine and dandy if it weren’t for some details. The Last Warrior is a Hollywood film produced by Disney’s Russian office hence the many issues with the interpretation of Russian fairy-tale characters. I believe the most significant detail here is that this production clearly demonstrates that Hollywood makes films that aren’t simply American but global or even Russian. Incidentally, last year Hollywoood’s main event was Disney swallowing the cinema archives of another giant, that of Australia’s Rupert Murdoch’s Fox.

As to the other champion, Fedor Bondarchuk’s Attraction, it was a simplified version of Paramount’s Arrival by Denis Villeneuve transplanted to Chertanovo (whose residents felt offended for some reason). The start of the new year saw a new “billionaire” in Russia — Nikita Mikhalkov’s Upwards Movement produced by his TriTe Studio about the USSR’s national basketball team victory at the 1972 Olympic games, filmed yet again according to the Hollywood template. It follows then that, most likely, the audience’s interest in domestic cinema is not a random occurrence but a trend, while the question of who is prevailing over whom remains unanswered because what we are witnessing is simply the process of globalization.

Yet box office is not the only measure of success in cinema. The European Film Academy awarded its distinguished prize to Alexander Sokurov. His film The Russian Ark was screened at the Academy’s official events in Berlin. Last year Sokurov’s students from the Kabardino-Balkaria region entered the festival orbit. Loveless became our frontrunner in the worldwide film process. Even though the European Film Academy only awarded the film best cinematography and best composer prizes, the main challenge is still up ahead because Zvyagintsev’s film is on the Oscar shortlist.

The best news, however, is the “brain revolution” occurring in the former Soviet Union’s film community. A newly established New Institute for Cultural Research held an international research conference in December at the VGIK titled History of National Cinemas in the USSR and the Future of Cinema and Film Education in the CIS countries, the Baltic States and Georgia sponsored by the Intergovernmental Fund for Cooperation in Humanities between the CIS countries. It was probably the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union that the discussion didn’t focus on mutual grievances but on a sincere desire to revive, deepen and expand communication between cinemas and cultural figures. The highlight was the presentation of a large multi-author volume published by Akademichesky Proekt with chapters about the different national film schools written by their respective representatives. The volume will be sent out to academic institutions of cultural learning and libraries across many countries.

There was yet another seminal event – Sochi hosted a second edition of a unique film festival where representatives of different cultures intersect and interact not just in terms of its programming choices but also in terms of the event’s idea and logistics. The forum is officially called Sochi International Film Festival & Awards or SIFFA, reflecting the relatively new trend of combining distinguished prizes based on year-end results and lifetime achievement with festival awards for competition films.

The festival was announced as Russian-British from the get go. The very idea of joining two nations in a state of a latent conflict with the European Union is an event in and of itself. The sanctions and counter-sanctions in our case and the Brexit for our partners render cultural and artistic cooperation between these two countries that much more timely.

The author is the Chairman of the Guild of Film Critics of the Union of Cinematographers of Russia, Ph. D. in Art History, Professor

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During a tough chapter in UK-Russian relations I was pleased to have been able to attend Luba's special evening... Luba , you are a brave and valiant woman to spearhead such a high-profile project in a hostile environment. But those of us who spent the 23rd with you had the privilege of breathing the same air as the legendary Stephen Frears, the American star Nick Nolte and the superb string ensemble (KANDOUR QUARTET).

Carol Gould,
Political Commentator at British Broadcasting Corporation

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Luba, this is a crucial time for artists to recover their voice, you are helping to restore the connection between all of us, film makers from all over the world. I applaud the philosophy that underpins what you are doing.

Roland Joffé,
the Oscar, BAFTA and Cannes film festival
winning film director of “The Killing Fields” and “The Mission”

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Congratulations on making history, Luba. Thanks to Anatoly Pakhomov, of course! Sochi is the ideal choice for the concept of creating an international film festival designed to restore the face of art to the world through cinema. (…) Russia has always presented to the world the best examples of literature, philosophy, cinema and, in general, culture! And now the new Sochi International Film Awards wrote a new chapter in history with the same concept.

Karl Bardosh,
famous professor of New York university,
director, producer, writer

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A structured and strict concept of a powerful film festival has been formed, and you managed to prove its feasibility. Congratulations on what you have achieved, Luba. You've got proof of concept under your belt now! I thank Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov for supporting the new important film festival.

Elliot Grove,
founder of the Raindance Film Festival
and British Independent Film Awards

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A smashing success! Thank you for bringing Moscow and Sochi delegations, for the unexpected Sochi-wood glamour, the feedback from staff members and external guests was unreservedly positive.

Larry Sherwin,
Deputy Director of Communications of
EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development)

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Admirable Lubov Balagova-Kandour.
President and Producer of the “IRIDA” First Sochi International Film Awards. Majestic woman and lady of the world. Her motto - nothing is impossible. A woman of words and deeds. Beautiful person and magnificent woman.

Nina Ruchkina
Fashion House owner, dress designer

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