Russia’s main national film festival, Kinotavr, got underway this week in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, home to the 2014 Winter Olympics. The festival is known for launching the careers of numerous up-and-coming filmmakers as well as showcasing the work of veteran directors. Samuel Crews brings you the five films he’ll be watching out for at this year’s festival.
The Major (2013)
Yuri Bykov’s second film is an emotionally intense drama that follows a police officer as he comes to terms with running over a child crossing the road. Like numerous auteurs before him, Bykov takes a hands on approach: he not only edited the film and wrote the music but also plays one of the main role. The Major premiered at Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival but failed to pick up any awards. Writing for Variety magazine, Leslie Felperin said: “This crime drama puts a distinctive, cynical Russian spin on genre material … It should substantially build Bykov’s reputation on the international circuit.”
Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari (2012)
Yekaterinburg director Alexei Fedorchenko caused a stir at the 2010 Kinotavr when his film Silent Souls was pulled from the competition. The film, which had been nominated for the Venice Film Festival, ended up taking the Golden Osella for best cinematography. This year’s submission, Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari, is an anthology of 22 short stories that explore the philosophy, mythology and traditions of the women of the Mari, a Finno-Ugric ethnic group of around 600,000 people who live in the middle reaches of the Volga in Russia. The film premiered at the Rome Film Festival in November 2012. Separately, in 2012 Fedorchenko collaborated on The Fourth Dimension, a feature produced by Grolsch Film Works and VICE Film. The film enlisted the help of three directors, including Harmony Korine and Jan Kwiecinski, to make three short films about the fourth dimension. His first full-length feature, First on the Moon (2004) came first in the Orrizonti category of new world films at the Venice Film Festival. How this black comedy — a genre still so lacking in Russian cinema — will go down with local audiences remains to be seen.
Bite the Dust (2013)
Taisia Igumentseva burst onto the Russian film scene last year with her diploma film, The Road To (2012), which won the Cinefondation award at the Cannes Film Festival for its “boldness and non-conformism”. The 24-year-old returned this year with a special out-of-competition screening of Bite the Dust, her first feature film. Igumentseva’s debut follows a group of Russian villagers as they face the prospect of death from a meteor strike. This is another black comedy, so once again the audience reacion is far from certain.
The Delivery Guy (2013)
A crime drama to rival The Major, The Delivery Guy by Andrei Stempkovsky follows a young pizza delivery boy living in the outskirts of Moscow as he struggles to find money for medical treatment for his ailing father. The film premiered at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in January and is set to go on the international circuit over the coming year. Stempkovsky’s first feature, Reverse Motion, won best script at the 2010 Kinotavr. Before turning to film, Stempkovsky worked as a journalist and photographer for a number of publications including Kommersant, Afisha, Russian Playboy and Russian GQ.
Dubbed the master of contemporary Russian documentary, Vitaly Mansky, one of the festival’s more established directors, returns with his latest film, Pipeline, the only nonfiction feature in the main competition. For the film, a co-production between Russia, the Czech Republic and Germany, Mansky travelled the length of a gas pipeline that runs from Western Siberia to Western Europe in order to explore the commonalities between the different groups that live along the route. A surefire winner among film critics, a new Mansky film is guaranteed to elicit great excitement. In the past he has produced a series of portraits of well-known figures including President Vladimir Putin, the Dalai Lama and pop duo Tatu.