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Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Keeping Independent Cinema Alive in Russia today: 2morrow/Завтра Film Festival

Perhaps one of the most interesting of small festivals that take place in Russia is the  International Festival of Independent Cinema entitled 2morrow/Завтра. A relatively small and young festival (now in its seventh edition), it was the brainchild of the late Russian film director Ivan Dykhovichny and is now run by his widow Olga and film director Angelina Nikonova. It concentrates on bringing to the Moscow public some of the more interesting festival hits of recent months and other occasional retrospectives and sections which can be just as inspiring as the main fare. For all the smallness of its size, it is far fresher in many ways than the unwieldy Moscow International Film Festival in June. Simply because it has no need to protect its reputation, its reputation seems to grow year by year.

It may not have had a particularly emphatic Russian flavour to it (one section devoted to regional Russian cinema called Offside showed a programme of six regional films from as far afield as Omsk (in fact there were two films by directors associated with this town), Buriatiya, Chelyabinsk and Yakutia. Of the films I watched from this section the quality was variable, although the Buryatian film Булаг (Bulag) [shown in the clip above] seemed to win the hearts of much of the audience. The director Солбон Лыгденов (Solbon Lygdenov) directed a film which could keep pace with many of the popular hits of recent years. Directed on a relatively small budget the film involved a return of Lygdenov to his native country after working for a number of years in the West and, nothwithstanding offers of work by Timur Bekmanbetov, he chose the harsher working conditions of his native country as director than a well-paid storyboard artist in Hollywood.

The Chelyabinsk film-maker Vladimir Kozlov Десятка (Ten) made a weaker film that only started to come alive towards the end but on such minute amounts of money that suggest that for all its problems with its drammaturgical effectiveness, the director may have some future ahead of him. Now preparing a film on Siberian punk rock, this film maker may begin to smooth out the uneveness of his debut film.

The most awaited Russian film of the festival was, of course, the documentary project Реальность (Reality) co-ordinated by the likes of Rastorguev, Kostomarov, Pivovarov and Cattin among others but what which was filmed by the documentary subjects themselves. An exploration of the formal possibilities of documentary and film itself, viewers at the festival were treated a section of just over half an hour of the material and were able to meet and question the subjects themselves. Being treated to this preview, it is still difficult to imagine it as a completed film though abounding with fascinating footage. All the same it is a curious complement to the film operators work for the site. This kind of concentration on both the 'newsworthy' and the everyday surely suggests that the film-makers- Rastorguev and Kostomarov et al are trying to look at reality through two very different lenses but by doing so will produce fascinating historic documents of early 21st century Russia.

Finally, in terms of Russian input there was a retrospective of Artur Aristaskisyan. An Armenian-Russian film director with only two major films to his name (and both made well over a decade ago), these films proved sufficient to inspire very high plaudits for having chosen Aristaskisyan to highlight. My trip to his first 1994 film Ладони (Palms) was one of the most rewarding moments of the festival. A '"relentless depiction of life at the margin" as Graeme Hobbs has argued it challenges us to rethink cinema in a way that is so rare these days. Full of impossible stories it enforces a necessary shame on the viewer for days after. Aristaskisyan has since become a particular kind of dissident activist unco-opted by some of the less welcome recent trends in the Russian opposition. Searching to forge a genuine opposition and dissidence, Aristaskisyan seems to have abandoned cinema by trying to find new ways of forging his vision. It certainly seems a loss to cinema though.

Apart from this, the festival also included a Kazakh film Harmony Lessons directed by Emir Baigazin. The cinematographer Aziz Zambakiyev won an award at Berlin and some opening shots give us a superb sense of landscape. The film is both poetic and disturbing, and the youth of the film-maker as well as the unusual origin of the film for a competition film for the Berlinale suggests that major hopes will be placed on the shoulders of Baigazin for leading a Kazakh new wave. The film impressed not only at Berlin with  very enthusiastic reviews but also convinced the festival jury in Moscow to award it the Gran Prix in spite of some very powerful competition such as the film that some critics suggested should have won at Venice (The Policeman's Wife) even though it divided the audience here.
This overview of the Russian and former Soviet nations input doesn't do justice to the importance of this festival as a whole. However badly funded this festival breathes a fresh gust of wind into the Moscow film scene. With whatever minimal resources the festival directors manage to find, their selection of films truly puts the late June Moscow International Film Festival to shame. As Andrei Plakhov argued in his piece for Kommersant  by refusing to compete with other festivals or attempting to repeat the successes of others, this festival slowly increases its own sphere of influence to become one of the most vital and vibrant film festivals in Russia today.

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