But while it officially belongs to the same "A" category as the prestigious Cannes, Berlin, and Venice festivals, the Moscow film festival, which opened on June 21 and runs through June, is only just starting to achieve international repute.
Back On Track
After the severe blow dealt by the Soviet collapse, Russia's film industry is back on its feet and has been rapidly growing over the past few years.
There was only one Russian entry in the 2006 Moscow festival: Aleksei Muradov's "The Worm." But this year's selection includes works from a number of former Soviet countries, with an emphasis on Russian-language films.
Andrei Plakhov, the president of FIPRESCI, the international film critics' association, is part of the committee responsible for selecting films for the festival. Out of the 19 movies picked for the main competition, Plakhov says three are, at least partially, in the Russian language.
"This program's characteristic is that quite a number of films are shot, at least partially, in Russian. For instance the Israeli film "Children of the USSR" (Yaldej CCCP), "By the River" (U Reki) -- an Ukrainian film featuring two talented Russian actresses -- and "Russian Triangle" (Rusuli Samkudhedi), by our Georgian colleague Aleko Tsabadze," Plakhov said. "This very interesting film is about problems in Chechnya, the war, and its consequences."
The winner will receive the festival's main award, a statuette representing St. George slaying a dragon -- Moscow's coat of arms.
The festival also brings to the public a number of Russian films on the sidelines of the main competition. A retrospective titled "Goodbye USSR!" for instance, presents little-known films shot in 1990 and 1991 as the Soviet Union was collapsing.
"A few years ago, when it emerged that Russian cinema was becoming competitive on the domestic market, many corresponding projects, or blockbusters, appeared. But now Russian films -- apart from a few exceptions -- no longer gather this kind of money." -- Russian film critic
Besides Russian films, cinemagoers have a chance to watch new productions from countries as diverse as Uzbekistan, Japan, Latvia, Ukraine, Norway, Hungary, Ecuador, the United States, Israel, Turkey, and Georgia.
The festival features a number of parallel competitions and categories such as "Free Thinking" for documentary films, "Chinese Extreme" for alternative movies from China, a retrospective of Hollywood musicals from the 1940s and 1950s, and a retrospective of early films by Czech-born director Milos Forman.
A sign of the festival's rising profile is the attendance of prominent film celebrities. Among the stars are Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica, whose latest film, "Zavet" (The Wish), opened the festival.
Stanislav Rostotsky, a leading Russian film critic who was a member of the festival's selection committee last year, says the Russian film industry is undergoing important changes.
But he says the term "revival" doesn't quite describe the state of the industry.
Russian actor and film director Nikita Mikhalkov (left) and Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica are on the 'A' list of celebrities (ITAR-TASS)
"It's rather the start of another period," Rostotsky said. "A few years ago, when it emerged that Russian cinema was becoming competitive on the domestic market, many corresponding projects, or blockbusters, appeared. But now Russian films -- apart from a few exceptions -- no longer gather this kind of money. As a result, the film industry is trying to explore adjacent spheres and countries, and conquer not only festival screens."
"The Banishment" (Izgnanie), by Andrei Zvyaguintsev, is an example of the type of sober, contemplative cinema that Russia has started producing.
This film, which tells the story of a couple whose marriage falls apart after the woman becomes pregnant from another man, won the Best Actor award at this year's Cannes festival. Zvyaguintsev's first film, "The Return," snatched the Golden Lion at the Venice Festival four years ago.
The Moscow International Film Festival closes on June 30 with "Roman de Gare" (Tracks) by French director Claude Lelouch.