At Moscow filmfest, a smaller role for politics
`WE want you to be convinced that our words about restructuring are not just words,'' said Oleg Rudnev, opening the film market at Moscow's 15th International Film Festival. ``We want to trade and cooperate with you. We're suggesting a new style of work,'' he continued. Already ``Soviet films have won a solid place on the world market,'' one of his deputies pointed out. Films such as Tengiz Abuladze's ``Repentance,'' a winner at this year's Cannes Film Festival, have been sold to film companies in Europe and America. Increasing the number of joint productions is one method the Soviets are pursuing to get more of their films onto the world market. The Soviet entry in this year's children's category is a joint Soviet-Swedish adaptation of the Astrid Lindgren book ``Mio Mio.'' Its star is a British schoolboy.
The new look of this year's festival (July 6-16) goes beyond the marketplace. Its organizers are eager to boost the event's prestige and have promised an end to the political prize-giving which made it a foregone conclusion that one of the awards would go to a Soviet entry. ``There is hope that ... a strong picture will win, and not the country where it was made,'' said director Nikita Mikhalkov.
The 12-member jury for full-length feature films is headed by US actor Robert De Niro. The number of feature films in competition has been reduced to 27 from the usual 45, to keep standards higher. Instead of the traditional three main prizes, only one will be offered this year. Among the films in competition are Francis Ford Coppola's ``Gardens of Stone,'' Federico Fellini's ``Interview,'' and Briton David Jones's ``84 Charing Cross Road.'' The major Soviet entry is ``The Messenger Boy,'' which deals with the problems of youth. Ukrainian Vladimir Shevchenko's ``Chernobyl: A Chronicle of Difficult Weeks'' is in the documentary competition.
Soviet critics have been unusually frank in assessing the low points of the festival's history. Georgy Kapralov reminisced in Sovietskaya Kultura about the reaction to Fellini's ``8,'' when it was submitted in 1963. It was almost rejected because someone ``very high up,'' who had been given a sneak preview, fell asleep 20 minutes after the start. When the jury awarded it the main prize, a special press conference was called to dissociate the Soviets from the choice. Mr. Kapralov also singles out ``incompetent interference'' and ``opportunistic, pseudo-patriotic conceptions'' as past hindrances.
The Soviet cinema's search for international respect is a direct outgrowth of the revolution that occurred over a year ago in the cinema workers' union. With the appointment of Elem Klimov, an often controversial director, as head of the union, the cinema became the first branch of the arts to put glasnost (openness) into effect. By this spring, 30 movies shelved by the censors over the past 20 years had been released. The Soviet public has begun to see less heroism on the screen, and more ordinary people trying to cope with difficult choices.
In Alexei German's ``Road Checks'' they are given a dreary view of life in World War II resistance, and a not unsympathetic picture of simple people who, through force of circumstance, collaborated with the Nazis. The theme, about an aging dramatist running out of inspiration, offers a weak central character instead of the once routine positive hero.
Neither of these films, both kept off the screen for more than six years, had the impact of ``Repentance.'' This symbolic portrayal of a dictator and his legacy, released last winter, has become a milestone in the broadening discussion of Stalinism. Its sometimes ponderous surrealism has not prevented it from attracting large audiences all over the Soviet Union.
While it may not be entirely true that there are ``no more forbidden zones'' for the Soviet cinema, as Sovexportfilm's chairman, Mr. Rudnev, said at his press conference, many barriers have already fallen. Thanks to vehement public criticism, policy on the import of foreign films has also changed. Soviet viewers will now have the chance to see films by Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Fellini, and Victor Antonioni. The line will be drawn at films found to be racist, pornographic, or overly violent.
The strongest constraint on the purchase of foreign films in the future may be economic. ``Large US companies see 300 million people here and suppose we have a very profitable market for their films,'' says Victor Kukharsky, a vice-president of Sovexportfilm. ``But they forget that we don't charge $6 or $7 for tickets - our prices don't cover our costs.'' Although the Soviets have long wanted to purchase ``Gone With the Wind,'' they can't afford the $3 million cost. For ``E.T.'' the consortium UIP at first asked $1 million, Mr. Kukharsky explains, but has since made a better offer for a package of films including ``The French Lieutenant's Woman'' and ``The Black Stallion.'' Negotiations on this package are continuing.
Soviet efforts to open the American market to their productions have not been as successful as Sovexportfilm officials would like. ``We've attempted collaboration with Columbia and Twentieth Century-Fox,'' Kukharsky says. ``But they're mainly interested in selling their pictures here. They say our films won't have any commercial success in the US.''
Until the purchase of ``Repentance'' by the Cannon Group, most Soviet films have been distributed through the International Film Exchange, a small company that distributes them to art theaters. Last year they purchased 10 Soviet films, compared with four in 1980.