FILMS

Glasnost on the screen

CATHERINE REDDEN July 20 1987
FILMS

Glasnost on the screen

CATHERINE REDDEN July 20 1987

Glasnost on the screen

FILMS

With its bureaucratic staff and its grim concrete facade, Moscow’s 6,000-bed Rossiya Hotel is a tourists’ symbol of the epic regimentation of Soviet life. But last week the mammoth structure near Red Square became a pivot point for a mini-revolution. The hotel is the official headquarters of the 15th biennial Moscow Film Festival, now attracting global attention as a test of Soviet glasnost—openness. The Rossiya’s concert hall is screening the festival’s feature films, while chauffeur-driven Chaika limousines wait outside to carry guests to six other theatres scattered across Moscow. “Of course it’s different from Cannes,” said U.S. director Haskell Wexler (Latino). “There are fewer naked women in the posters. It’s less commercial.”

Still, commerce—particularly the selling of the new Soviet image—is very much the point. Historically, the Soviet Union has imported few western films: last year, according to the entertainment trade weekly Variety, only 5.4 per cent of its moviegoing public saw an American movie. And its major film festival has traditionally showcased mainly model domestic movies. But this year the event, which lasts until July 17, includes a vigorous film market with buyers and sellers from Hollywood, Europe, Asia and Canada. As well, local filmmakers have set up a cinematographers’ club to discuss coproductions with western film-makers.

Meanwhile, the festival’s schedule encompasses more than 200 films from 110 different countries, including Canada’s John and The Missus, directed by and starring Gordon Pinsent. It also features a retrospective of films, many previously banned, by Soviet master Andrei Tarkovsky. He died in exile in 1986, his name stricken from the Kino Encyclopedia of film (it was reinstated in the latest edition). Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice, winner of a 1986 Cannes Festival Prix d’Or, is being shown publicly in the Soviet Union for the first time. But the choice of American actor Robert De Niro as chairman of the 11-member festival jury is one of the strongest signs of the new order. “Things are changing,” said Elem Klimov, secretary general of the Soviet Cinematographers Union— which has a voice in the decisions of the state film board, Goskino—as he officially introduced De Niro at the festival. “Now we are going to show the films in which De Niro has taken part.”

In the 15 months since his election, 54year-old Klimov has sent out many sig-

nals of reform. He helped clear 30 formerly banned domestic movies for screening and, in March, travelled to Hollywood to sign an accord with U.S. industry leaders. That agreement states that both industries will make every effort to rid their screens of stereotypes about the other, support coproductions and ease the regulations governing exchanges of technical crews. Meanwhile, a new management team has taken over at Mosfilm, the country’s largest studio, and authorities have warned that there may be purges elsewhere if companies fail to become self-supporting by creating films with box-office appeal.

Still, visitors to Moscow expecting bigscreen glasnost were disappointed by the offical Soviet entry in the festival’s feature film competition, Messenger Boy, which deals with troubled Ukrainian teenagers. It has attracted far less interest than Soviet documentaries. One, the

Latvian film Is It Easy To Be Young?, explores previously taboo themes of drug addiction and the problems of soldiers returning from the war in Afghanistan. “It’s a very serious film for us,” said Soviet actor Sasha Adabashyan. “It deals with terrible things.”

Westerners who have visited past festivals say that they are impressed. U.S. director Stanley Kramer (High Noon, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner) was attending his fourth Moscow festival while arranging a coproduction deal. Said Kramer: “It’s a much freer atmosphere to discuss ideas.” And Jean Chapleau, president of the Montreal-based Quesov Impex Inc., which imports Soviet films to Canada, said, “There is not so much of a problem now with scenarios— except they are rigid on sex.” Indeed, sex remains one corner in which glasnost refuses to shine. At the third Moscow Film Festival in 1963, the jury awarded its Grand Prize to Federico Fellini’s erotically charged 8V2, but the film was never screened outside the festival. A quarter of a century later, Soviet film fans are still waiting to see it.

-CATHERINE REDDEN in Moscow