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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sunshine and Stars in Sochi

Hot on the heels of Cannes, the Kinotavr '94 international film festival concluded last week after a splashy, star-studded 10 days of screenings, award ceremonies and nearly constant celebrations. The fashionable Black Sea resort of Sochi, overrun with more than 2,000 directors, actors and festival guests, seemed well on its way to recovering its former sunny grandeur. The town's colossal Winter Theater, built in 1937 in the striking Stalinist empire style, was the center of the action at the festival, raising its heavy claret-colored curtains for the screenings of 33 films. Even the Zhemchuzhina Hotel, an Intourist cereal-box monster of a structure, failed to dampen the nostalgic quality of the festival, which concluded June 9. Kinotavr celebrated its fifth year of existence in the high style befitting the occasion, renting out the Sochi Circus for a "Beast Jubilee," organizing rigorous soccer matches between participants and taking a day tour to Abkhazia, the first such tourist trip since civil war broke out in neighboring Georgia. Unlike Cannes, whose image Kinotavr seemed to be attempting to emulate -- down to the parade of stars up the red-carpeted staircase -- the festival's most popular spot was the beach. The suntanned festival guests increased substantially the dwindling vacationers in the resort, where hotel and sanatorium rooms can cost upward of 1.3 million rubles a month. In addition to its Russian and international competitions, the festival featured film retrospectives of French cinematographer Sacha Vierny, Irish filmmakers Neil Jordan and Jim Sheridan, and independent American filmmaker Jon Jost. The impressive Russian jury, which included the actor and director of the Moscow Art Theater School, Oleg Tabakov, actors Irina Metlitskaya and Alexander Zbruev, screenwriter Alexander Mindadze and film director Sergei Ovcharov, considered 20 competing Russian films. In the end, the grand prize went to Turkmen director Usman Saparov's "Little Angel, Make Me Happy." The film is an intimate portrait of the life of a 6-year-old boy left behind after a German settlement in Turkmenistan is deported during World War II. He remains alone, but his soul is saved by a miracle -- an angel who brings him at different times a glass of milk, a corncob, and a strange blue egg. The Best Actress prize went to Inna Churikova, whose films "Casanova's Cloak," "A Dog's Year" -- a love story about a former convict and a lonely woman living in an abandoned settlement contaminated by radiation -- and Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky's "The Chicken Ryaba" were screened during the festival. The Best Actor prize was ultimately shared between Churikova's "A Dog's Year" co-star Igor Sklyar and rising star Vladimir Mashkov ("Lim-ita," "Moscow Suburb Evenings"), whose rakish, off-putting charm has earned him comparisons with American actor Mickey Rourke. Special prizes for "the development of film language" went to "Passion" by Kira Muratova and "Clearing" by Georgian filmmaker Nodar Managadze. Thirteen films were considered by the international jury, which included Italian filmmaker Liliana Cavani, producer and screenwriter Silvia D'Amico, Polish film director Agnieszka Holland and Russian film directors Irakly Kvirikadze and Valery Todorovsky as well as film scholar Miron Chernenko. The Grand Pearl Prize and accompanying $20,000 prize were awarded to "Mina Tannenbaum," by French director Marine Dugowson. The film is the story of two young women whose friendship is torn apart when Mina, an aspiring artist, realizes her friend, Ethel, has caught the interest of the gallery owner whom she herself secretly loves. Hurt, Mina withdraws into herself and alone, begins to doubt her artistic capabilities. Romane Bohringer, the recipient of French C?sar for the lead in Cyril Collard's "Savage Nights," puts in an inspiring performance as Mina. Hungarian director Janos Szasz's stunning debut, a screen version of Georg Buchner's 1836 "Woyzeck" (written just before the author's death at 23), was awarded the festival's Special Prize "for the beauty of black-and-white cinema, which reflects a brokenhearted world of loneliness." Szasz's film unveils the tragic story of an ordinary, oppressed and deceived individual who discovers he can no longer bear the weight of an intolerable world. A Special Prize was also given to up-and-coming filmmaker Tom Tykwer for his grotesque thriller, "Die Todliche Maria" ("Deadly Maria"), "for the searching for light in the long tunnel of everyday routine." The story follows the life of a lonely woman whose only consolation and companionship is a bizarre collection of flies. The film is brilliantly ornamented with elements of absurdism and computer technology devices. A third jury, the Film Critics Board, headed by Marcel Martin, presented its award to Gennady Kaumov and Tofik Bekmambetov's stylish, moving "Peshaver Waltz," the story of a British journalist covering the war during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, filmed in a dramatic, documentary-like style. "This is the most healthy of all Russian film festivals," said Sergei Solovyov, chairman of the Confederation of Russian Filmmakers, towards the end of Kinotavr. "There's every indication that it will continue to grow and develop. It's true that many people in the West don't have any idea where Sochi is located; time will have to pass before our festival finally wins worldwide recognition and film people feel like doing business with us."