Between Past And Present

in 26th Moscow International Film Festival

by Umberto Rossi

The 26th Moscow Film Festival (MIFF) was marked this year by the difficulties of the forced transfer into the Soviet structures of the old Dom Kino (Film House), following the destruction of its press centre in recent years, at the Manege Building, only a few hundred meters away from Red Square. On 14th of April of this year, it was destroyed by a fire the origins of which still remains a mystery.

For nine days, a variety of films were shown in the local cinemas, most of them technically modest, but almost always before large audiences. Those familiar with the festival from “the good old days” of the Socialist era could notice many novelties, side by side with certain aspects that apparently have remained unchanged, despite the political upheaval which took place in this country. For instance, there is a certain bureaucratic heaviness of the past, which has not been really altered by the new political situation. The proliferation of security controls may be partially justified by the terrorist threat, but it works against the essential flexibility that is necessary for every efficient festival organization. Also, the decision to entrust a German agency with the responsibility of foreign invitations has obviously not been a very happy one, judging from the limited number of foreign journalists and critics attending the Festival.

Again unchanged is the ambition to reach dimensions comparable with the world’s leading festivals, though the present conditions in Moscow do not allow it. For a long time, the MIFF insisted on trying to compete on equal terms with such festivals as Cannes, Venice and Berlin. This year again, we heard the management speak of 1.500 guests and more than 3.000 accreditations. Important data, but not quite substantiated by the scarcity of foreigners in the cinemas and in the press room. This may be a subjective impression only, but an inevitable one for those who have still, fresh in their minds, the febrile international activity at a festival like Cannes, for instance. On the other hand, there is a distinct improvement in the program structures and the functioning of its presentation, particularly in the informative sections, which presented many original and non-conformist items.

One thing is certain: Nikita Mikhalkov must have been elated every time he mounted the stairs of the Dom Kino stage. For it is on this particular stage that, in 1986, the fifth congress of the Union of Filmmakers of USSR marked the beginning of Gorbachov’s revolution. It was on that occasion that the radicals, lead by Elem Klimov, openly clashed for the first time with the new Brejnevians — who were following the internationally better known filmmaker, Nikita Mikhalkov. The motto of the conservatives was “everything has to change so that everything stays the same”. They were roundly defeated and Mikhalkov, who was proposed as the new president of the Union, wasn’t even allowed to present his case. In fact, when he tried to pose as a martyr of the former regime, affirming that Goskino, the powerful organism that managed the Soviet cinema, had denied him a few thousand meters of film for one his pictures, he was booed off the stage. Some of those present in the audience were directors whose works had been seized for years (Elem Klimov, once elected president, released, in a historical decision, something like thirty banned films), filmmakers that hadn’t made a movie for a long time, intellectuals placed under constant surveillance by the repressive apparatus.

Many years have passed since, Elem Klimov died last October after a long period of inactivity. Now there is a new regime and Nikita Mikhalkov, earlier a Boris Yeltsin faithful, has now joined Vladimir Putin. In a few years he has become a rich and powerful man, the president of the festival and a close adviser to the new rulers. In a certain sense, this is exactly what he was arguing at the time: everything changed so that everything could stay the same.