A City Ready for Art Film

in 50th Sydney Film Festival

by Victoria Belopolskaya

Now that I am back from Australia, when I am asked what kind of city is Sydney – I reply immediately and without hesitation: “It’s a city where the movie “Russian Ark” is helping movie theaters to stay in business”. The funny thing is that it’s true: the projectionist of the two-screen movie theater Valhalla enthusiastically explained to me, when he found out that I wasfrom Russia, that the box office success of “Russian Ark” (at the time of the conversation Sokurov’s movie had been playing at that theater for about a month) really helped their bottom line. I fully understand that non-Russians might not be surprised by this fact. If you only knew, though, how this fact amazes a Russian person. And especially a person like me, who is responsible for cover stories in Premiere magazine (Russian edition), namely someone who by definitions deals mostly with blockbusters. And this is because in Russia, only a snapshot from a blockbuster movie adorning a cover of a publication can guarantee that that publication will sell at least 30% of its published copies (this fact is confirmed by sociological researches).

Of course, whatever is happening in Sydney with “Russian Ark” does not directly relate to the film festival. But indirectly it does – that much is obvious to me. The Sydney festival is taking place in a city that is ready to treat cinematography as an art form, as a social force and means to expand the audience’s consciousness. Endless lines to see documentaries presented me with a cultural shock – again, as someone from Russia – because in our country documentary films do not exist for our box at the present times and do not hold any promise for the future. Unlike Sidney, where no one is surprised at people lining up to see the documentary “Seville South Side” about Spanish gypsies.

This is why the Sydney film festival impressed me as a local event in the best sense of the word. It exists not for it’s own sake (like, say, the Moscow film festival), but to give the people of Sidney a chance to see cinematographies from a wide spectrum of different countries, and mostly movies marked by the unique visions of their creators. It is a local festival, because it is rooted in the mentality of its audience. It is not designed to define certain hierarchies in cinematography as a whole, but it definitely defines them in the audience’s mind. An amusing feature of the festival is the fact that the less loud and pretentious the movie is, the more interest it arouses. For example, the screening of “Marion Bridge” – a very intimate, ‘chekhovian’ in its style and focus film – attracted a lot of people and caused lively discussion in the end.

By the way, a couple of words about the Australians’ reactions: not only is the audience engaged and animated, but people also display a real viewers’ solidarity. After the screening of “Molly and Mobarak”, for instance, the audience welcomed the young Afghan refugee with such enthusiasm and expressed so much interest in his trials and tribulations, that it was hard to keep in mind that it was just a movie screening and not some kind of charity event for refugees…