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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

York Taps Russian Fans to Promote New Films

This is not Michael York's first trip to Russia.

The celebrity actor and guest of this week's Moscow International Film Festival has been a Russian favorite for over three decades, and he remembers his first stay in the country, back in 1973, particularly well.

"At that time a very successful TV series in which I had acted called 'The Forsyte Saga,' was being aired on Russian TV," he said. "I did not realize how popular it was here ? so to be recognized and to be stopped on Red Square at that time seemed really surreal to me."

But while Red Square has been shaken up since then, York's popularity among the Russian audience has remained strong. In 1995, he received the Peter the Great Award from the St. Petersburg Festival of American Films, and this week he is in Moscow to promote two of his new films, "Ghostly Rental" and "The Merchants of Venus." Although invited to serve on the festival jury, he declined due to the hectic wrap-up schedule of his latest film, millennium thriller "The Omega Code."

For Michael York fans, the festival also offers a retrospective of some of his earlier films, including "Fedora" (1978), "Cabaret" (1972), "Romeo and Juliet" (1968) and "Murder on the Orient Express" (1974). His eclectic choice of roles has ranged from D'Artagnan in "The Three Musketeers" in 1974 to Basil Exposition in the 1997 and 1999 Austin Powers flicks.

York takes pride in his own daring. "You can play it safe the whole time and wait till conditions are ideal and then dip your toe in the water," he says. "But I like taking on challenges and playing a variety of characters. Also, I have passion for working with first time directors ? you never know what might hit pay-dirt."

In this way, the two new films being screened at this year's Moscow Film Festival under the Retrospective of Michael York category are "representative of the independent filmmaking world outside the studio system," York says. "One of the best ways to get publicity for these independent works is to put them on the film festival circuit." But while adding to the diversity of the festival, neither of the two films will be competing for the main prize, the St. George.

The first film, "The Ghostly Rental," is a thriller adapted from a ghost story by Henry James and directed by Mitch Marcus. Co-starring York and Claudia Christian and shot in Ireland, it is about a professor and a student who are haunted by a dead girl's ghost.

The second film, a romance/comedy called "The Merchants of Venus," should be of special interest to the audiences here. Shot in Los Angeles, it is the story of a Russian immigrant, Alexander (York), who wants a regular job. So in order to avoid becoming a taxi driver, he ends up working in a factory that makes sex toys and marital aids. A low-budget, independent feature by Len Richmond, the film ironically explores Alexander's desperate bid for a little bit of normalcy.

"I think it's really cheeky of me to bring this film here," York says, "but I think that the Russians here would find it interesting to see how the Russians are portrayed in the U.S., and also since it was filmed in a real factory which has a number of expatriate Russians working there."

Shot on 16-mm film and later blown up to large screen format, "The Merchants of Venus" epitomizes the kind of "guerrilla filmmaking" that is forcing large studio bosses to acknowledge the remarkable work of independent filmmakers on shoe-string budgets.