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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin's Backing Cheers Film Festival

The 22nd annual Moscow Film Festival experienced a new beginning even as the international event ended over the weekend with Polish entry "Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease" taking the top prize of best film, organizers said.

Russia's film elite said they were elated because top government officials f including President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov f turned up to rub shoulders with actors and directors and offer for the first time their support for the annual festival.

"We stand on the threshold of the rebirth of our cinematography," festival president Nikita Mikhalkov said Saturday at the closing ceremony in the Pushkin movie theater. "Vladimir Putin supports it."

With Putin sitting in the audience, Mikhalkov then read to loud applause a decree that Putin signed last week promising support and state funding for the festival.

The lovefest last weekend between the film world and the Kremlin was a marked change from the terse mood a couple of months ago when filmmakers angrily protested a government decision to the abolish the State Committee for Cinematography and transfer its responsibilities to the Culture Ministry. Filmmakers, including Mikhalkov, complained at the time that the move endangered the future of Russian cinema itself.

But now, with the Kremlin's backing, organizers hope the event will leapfrog its way into the spotlight as a major international film festival. Despite strong attendance, the 10-day festival was once again left red-faced this year when announced guests like director Quentin Tarantino and actors Courtney Love and Samuel L. Jackson failed to show up.

Mikhalkov himself inadvertently showed how the festival was not the most star-studded event in a recent interview. Listing the visiting stars, he said: "Irene Jacob, Billy, er, the one in 'Titanic,'" and waved his hand for inspiration.

"Zane?" this reporter asked.

"Oh, yes," he said.

But Mikhalkov is confident the path from here is only up. "Only now is it becoming an international festival," he said. "I think that in future years, I'll deal with guests and invitations earlier, and everything will be different."

The lack of stars appeared to do little to dampen the enthusiasm of the festival. Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi premiered his film "Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease" and walked away with the golden St. George statuette as the all-around winner. The film, whose title he took from graffiti on a building wall in Warsaw, tells the story of a director making a film about the life of St. Bernard and finding himself contemplating how people prepare to die.

Clement Sibony took the best actor award for his role as an aspiring actor named Stan in the French film "L'Envoi." Steve Suissa took the best director for the same film.

Maria Simon won the best actress award for her part as Lea in the Swiss film "Angry Kisses," which follows the seduction of a young boarder at a Catholic school of her teacher.

A special prize for an outstanding contribution to world of cinema was given to the only Russian film in the competition, Vitaly Melnikov's "The Garden Was Full of Moonlight."

All of the winners except Zanussi complained in accepting their awards about getting stuck in traffic jams on the way to the ceremony, prompting a rare joke from Putin.

"If I said I got caught in traffic, you wouldn't believe me," he said before launching into a prepared speech about the wonders of film.