THE GLAMOROUS Sochi International Film Festival and Awards (SIFFA) could become part of Cheltenham’s annual cultural calendar after the town’s Twinning Association issued an invitation at the SIFFA’19 UK Gala Night in the City of London last night (21/3/2019).

Talks are in motion for a meeting between Cheltenham Council, the Twinning Association and SIFFA UK. “We hope to come to Cheltenham very soon,” said a SIFFA official.

More than 150 guests, including Cheltenham Twinning Association’s Martin Kimber, donned gowns and black tie for the SIFFA’19 UK London celebrations, which follow after the main annual SIFFA event in the Russian Black Sea coastal resort of Sochi.

Cheltenham’s temperate twin Sochi is a sun-kissed seaside resort which lies at the foot of the Caucasus mountains with year-round ski-ing. It first grew as a health spa resort like Cheltenham with which it has been twinned for 60 years.

The SIFFA’19 UK Gala Awards ceremony featured best-selling Royal biographer and TV star Lady Colin Campbell giving honours to winners, alongside the President of Russia’s Guild of Film Critics, Kirill Razlogov, and sublime Russian sculptress Irina Lagoshina.

Guests saw the UK première of up-and-coming Russian director Vladimir Bitokov’s stunning movie ‘Deep Rivers’ – a disturbing drama set in the Caucasus mountains. Director Bitokov said afterwards: “I am deeply proud my film is shown in London by SIFFA.”

The City of London global commercial law firm of Pinsent Masons played host to the SIFFA’19 UK Gala at its prestigious HQ in Crown Place, near Liverpool Street Station.

SIFFA Founder and President, Luba Balagova, marking her Festival’s 4th year in business, confirmed the growing tie between SIFFA’s UK base and its annual centrepiece show in Sochi, Russia’s most glamorous city.

“SIFFA aims to promote an artistic bridge between Britain and Russia, and we are delighted to have found a warm-hearted welcome in the City of London and now, tonight, we are also very happy to hear the overtures from Cheltenham,” Ms Balagova, an author and poet, who lives in Berkshire, said at the Gala Reception.

Cheltenham’s Twinning Association leader Martin Kimber told the SIFFA’19 UK guests: “We would very much like SIFFA to come to us and stage an event like this in our town of Cheltenham, Sochi’s twin for 60 years now. Cheltenham Council would, I believe, be very favourable for SIFFA to come to our Gloucestershire jewel. Our door is open.”



NOTES TO EDITORS: for further details, photos, and other requests, please check our website at or contact SIFFA Media Director John Hellings on 07913 819784 or

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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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