Film critic Kirill Razlogov: Prototype of the Festival of the Future
The very end of 2017 witnessed the second edition of a unique film festival in Sochi, which I believe to be the prototype of the festivals of the future - a festival where people from different cultures are involved in programming in addition to developing its vision and ensuring its logistics. It was announced as a Russian-British festival last year and the media reported a more considerable British presence both in terms of people and films. The very idea of bringing together 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 Brexit for our partners render cultural and artistic cooperation between these two countries that much timelier.
When I was invited to the second edition of the festival as artistic director (a title that sounds awkward in Russian but that appropriately reflects the peculiarities of two coexisting languages), what convinced me to go was the involvement of the Kabardino-Balkaria region, which, thanks to Alexander Sokurov’s school, is starting to occupy a special place in the today’s film world, in Russia and beyond.
The festival’s official name – Sochi International Film Festival and Awards (SIFFA) – reflects the relatively recent trend of combining distinguished prizes based on year-end results and lifetime achievement with festival awards for competition films. I received the invitation from my former post-doctoral student at the Russian Institute for Cultural Research festival founder and president Luba Balagova - a poet, writer and community leader. Luba is also related to Kantemir Balagov, whose directorial debut Closeness was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, followed by many other festivals worldwide, including Sochi’s Kinotavr.
Our joint efforts produced a highly diverse and respectable second SIFFA (the list of international jury members below serving as proof) in addition to more and better films, ranging from the big production that is the historical drama Victoria and Abdul (with Judi Dench and Ali Fazal in the leading roles) to the Moroccan documentary Belt about belly dancing as a cultural phenomenon and a film from Kazakhstan, Sabin Kurmanbekov’s Returnee.
Competition program included 13 full features, 19 shorts and 13 documentaries. An international jury judged the films: English-French director, Oscar-winner Roland Joffe; Distinguished Artist of Russia Svetlana Toma; actor, director and screenwriter Artem Mikhalkov; Hollywood veteran, director and producer Mohy Quandour; well-known columnist and TV presenter Sergei Sholokhov; director and producer Alexei Pischulin; director and screenwriter Vadim Tsalikov, actress and director Anna Yanovskaya.
The festival continued last year’s tradition of holding its main events and screenings at the city’s best hotels where the participants and attendees were staying. First and foremost, it was the Radisson Blue Paradise Resort, as well as the Russian Seasons Hotel. This year the festival also went into the city. Highlights include Vera Glagoleva’s in memoriam evening held at Sochi’s Luxor cinema. Vera Glagoleva headed the jury of the first Sochi festival. Festival attendees, guests, media representatives and Sochi residents were able to attend screenings of new films at the festival venues. Vera Glagoleva’s One War and Artem Mikhalkov’s Betting on Love were special treats for the Sochi residents.
My initial fears were proven wrong: the big-name directors and stars did arrive and all the logistical issues were resolved despite the usual concerns about funding. Support for the festival was provided by the senator of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, Arsen Kanokov, the administration of the city of Sochi, as well as partners and sponsors. The six festival days were replete with interesting events: in addition to the screenings there were master classes, meetings with artists and plays. What I appreciated the most at the Sochi festival was its creative and amiable atmosphere, the friendly discussions between cinema people from different countries and their desire to support their colleagues despite the industry’s stiff competition.
Festival’s main prizes:
Grand Prix - The Receptionist (director Jenny Lu, Taiwan)
Best Documentary - Muhi: Generally Temporary (directors Rina Castelnuovo and Tamir Elterman, Israel/Germany)
Best Short Film - I Can See You (director Denis Kudryavtsev, Russia)
Best Producer - Hannah Stevenson (In Another Life, director Jason Wingard, UK)
Best Director – Slava Ross (Son, Russia)
Best Screenplay – David Chubinishvili, Rusudan Glurjidze (House of Others, director Rusudan Glurjidze, Georga/Russia/Croatia/Spain)
Best Cinematography – Sergei Maximov (Touch of Wind, director Elena Demidova, Olga Veremeyeva, Russia)
Best Production Design – Rustam Odinayev (Returnee, director Sabit Kurmanbekov, Kazakhstan)
Best Music – Ulziibayar Shatar (Children of Genghis, director Zolbayar Dori, Mongolia)
Best Actress – Judi Dench (Victoria and Abdul, director Steven Frears, UK/USA)
Best Actor – Ali Fazal (Victoria and Abdul, director Steven Frears, UK/USA)
Best Acting Debut - Arsenij Romashin (Son).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.