The 35th edition of the yearly Moscow International Film Festival (MIFF), which took place from June 20 though June 29, recorded its largest edition ever this year, in terms of both the number of films on offer and the attendance, as it fights a crowded international circuit of prominent film festivals.
The content and prestige of MIFF remain far from the levels of some of the most acclaimed festivals around the world, such as Cannes, Venice, or Berlin, and critics have suggested that it fails to attract films that are of international interest. Yet the director of the festival, Nikita Mikhalkov, who dug the event out of the post-Soviet ruins and has led it ever since, says statistics prove otherwise.
The popularity of the festival, which was founded in 1935 by famed Soviet filmmaker and “Battleship Potemkin” director Sergei Eisenstein, has grown exponentially in the past few years since becoming an annual event in 1995.
Last week, some 72,000 visitors attended more than 360 films shown during MIFF’s eight-day run, a 10 percent increase since last year.
“The interest in the festival doesn’t fade. The proof of success is whether we have films to show or not, whether people come to see them or not, [and] whether they talk about them or not,” Mikhalkov told journalists.
“And to those who critique, I can only say, ‘go do better,’” he added.
Regardless of the rising numbers, the vast geographic and chronological span of the films, and even Brad Pitt’s attendance at the opening ceremony while promoting his film “World War Z,” the festival lacked systems and content.
MIFF was divided into nearly 30 programs, including retrospectives on French, Italian, and Russian classics, and a program suitably dedicated to the history of the Olympic movement before the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, but few filmmakers were premiering movies. There was no common theme except for what felt like a gloomy mood, which Mikhalkov attributed to a worldwide trend representing a “taste for pessimism, trouble, and catastrophe on the screen.”
Films in the main program ranged from those about same-sex relationships such as the Dutch production “Matterhorn,” which received the People’s Choice Award, to those about poverty and the pain of loneliness experienced by women in the Best Film winner from Turkey, Erdem Tepegöz’s “Particle” (“Zerre”). Betrayal and robbery provided the storyline in Andrey Bogatyryov’s “Judas” —Alexey Shevchenkov received the Best Actor Award for his performance in the film.
The festival’s international jury was comprised of Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, French-Swiss director Ursula Maier, Russian actor Sergey Garmash, and South Korean Kim Dong-Ho, founder of the Busan Film Festival, who together chose the best film among the 16 movies of the main program, as well as the best documentary, short film, actor, and actress.
The festival’s screenings were divided between five different cinemas around the city, which made attendance inconvenient for many. Mikhalkov acknowledged the lack of a single space is the biggest issue the festival faces.
“We need to change the location. The festival needs its own address. It has proven its right to have one, and now the government has to understand that,” he said, adding that it didn’t mean the government would have the right to dictate what movies would be shown.
“If the state starts imposing its ideology, I will quit the festival immediately,” Mikhalkov said.
The issues persist for MIFF, but the progress is obvious not only in numbers, but in the organization and the experiences of the returning film directors.
French filmmaker Patrick Cazals, who showed his documentary “Musidora, the Tenth Muse” at the festival last week, said MIFF had much more energy and character this year as opposed to three years ago, when he participated for the first time.
“The reception and the organization has come on a long way, and the interest in the films is much greater. The compilation and the range of the movies is good, and I think the festival will only get better with more years,” he told ARTINFO Russia.