Last week, the 46th Moscow International Film Festival (MIFF) ended in Moscow. MIFF was first held in 1935 and is one of the oldest film festivals in the world. Over the years, winners have included some of the world’s greatest filmmakers, including Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kramer, Norman Jewison and Damiano Damiani. Of course, famous Soviet and Russian film directors such as Sergey Bondarchuk, Sergey Gerasimov, Grigory Chukhray, Elem Klimov and Alexey Uchitel also received major awards at the festival in various years.

MIFF in USSR and Russia

MIFF played a particularly important cultural role in the USSR in the 1960s and 70s, when access to foreign cinema was limited and modern film distribution platforms were unavailable. Most of the films shown at MIFF were either released in select movie theaters or were not shown in Russian cinemas at all, and some of these films were only released on television years later.

Moreover, some of the films shown at MIFF were censored by the USSR authorities, so for Soviet moviegoers the festival was the only opportunity to watch films by Western directors such as Stanley Kubrick or Lindsay Anderson. MIFF also offered an unprecedented chance to see stars of world cinema face to face, including Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, Yves Montand, Toshiro Mifune, Richard Burton, Jean Marais and many more.

It’s hard to understand how important MIFF was in those days, because today all films are eventually released on online streaming platforms and people can watch almost anything (including all films shown at the film festival) without leaving their homes. .

Following the fall of the Iron Curtain, MIFF became one of the world’s leading film festivals. But even before that, as soon as relations between the USSR and the USA were thawed, many Western filmmakers showed great interest in participating in MIFF. For example, Robert De Niro joined the jury in 1987, and Andrzej Wajda, Zhang Yimou, Emir Kusturica and Jos Stelling joined the jury in 1989. Quentin Tarantino, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Sean Penn, Tim Burton and many other stars. All of world cinema has attended MIFF in various years.

However, in the last two years, the festival has faced a major obstacle. After February 2022 (the start of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine), the International Federation of Film Producers Associations indefinitely paused MIFF’s accreditation due to sanctions imposed on Russia. Officially, MIFF was no longer included in the list of prestigious international film festivals and the organizers had to „restructure” the event. The festival gained a new status and many problems had to be solved, especially regarding logistics, visa procedures and accreditation of foreign press. The festival was held in September instead of April in 2022, but was not canceled despite various difficulties.

MIFF 2024 winners

Despite Western sanctions affecting Russia’s cultural life, the Moscow International Film Festival is still held every year. Even without international accreditation (which was seen as an important bureaucratic requirement) it remains one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. It is noteworthy that among the 11 films participating in the Main Competition of the event, only one Russian film, Ivan Sosnin’s 'Alien’, was included. Seven more Russian paintings were presented in the Russian Premiere competition.

This year, Icelandic director, screenwriter and producer Fridrik Thor Fridriksson was elected as the president of the MIFF jury. The jury also included Russian actress Elena Lyadova, Serbian director Radoš Bajić, Turkish filmmaker Hüseyin Karabey, Kazakhstani producer and director Gulnara Sarsenova and Russian director Igor Voloshin.

The festival’s grand prize, the Golden St. George was given to Mexican director Miguel Salgado for the movie 'Shame’. It tells the story of friends Pedro and Lucio, who are kidnapped and forced to fight a deadly battle with each other to survive. Juan Ramon Lopez, who played the role of Pedro, also won the Best Actor award.

Mareike Beykirch won the Best Actress award for her role in the German drama 'Schlamassel’. While Iranian filmmaker Nahid Azizi Sedig received the Silver St. George award for her film 'Cold Breath’, the Bangladeshi film 'Nirvana’ was also deemed worthy of the special jury award. Notably, 'Cold Breath’ won the Audience Award, while 'Shame’ was rated third best by audiences. 'Breath of Cold’ is a complex family drama about a son who must decide whether he can forgive his father for committing murder. His complex family relationships and his son’s desire for revenge, which failed to heal his wounded heart, appealed to Russian audiences.

The Iranian film 'Facing the Castle’ won the Best Documentary award. It is about the Iranian painter Ali Akbar Sadeghi and his attempt to transfer his paintings to the field of computer graphics. While the Spanish film 'Partners’ won in the Best Short Film category, the special award for Contribution to Cinema was given to director Sergei Ursulyak, known for the TV series 'Liquidation’ and 'And Quiet Flows the Don’ and the films 'And Quiet Flows the Don’. Russian Ragtime’ and 'The Fair Ones’.

In keeping with tradition, the Russian Premiere competition attracted great attention. This category presents new Russian films and, in a way, exemplifies the state of Russian cinema. This year’s winner, 'Liar’ starring young actress Elizaveta Ishchenko, has sparked a lot of controversy. It received mixed reviews and the jury’s decision caused much controversy.

’Liar’ explores the theme of sexual harassment against women, but presents the issue from the other side. The main character of the movie, Eva, is only 17 years old, but she is already bored with life; nothing interests him and he feels invisible. In an attempt to make life more exciting, she accuses a formerly popular singer of harassment and becomes a media star overnight.

The film sparked heated debate in the press. Its creators were accused of victim-blaming and the MIFF jury was condemned for awarding a prize to such a controversial work. However, it is noteworthy that the film was shot almost entirely by a film crew consisting of women. Directed by Yulia Trofimova; the script was written by Trofimova, Maria Shulgina and Ayelet Gundar-Goshen; The producers were Katerina Mikhailova, Tatyana Moiseeva and Natalia Murashkina, and only the film’s post producer Timur Beliy was male.

Out of competition screenings

A total of nearly 240 films and TV series were screened at MIFF this year, and most of them were screened out of competition. Such films and TV series were organized into 14 thematic programs. Out-of-competition screenings include a new historical film by renowned Chinese director Zhang Yimou; 'Seconds’ – a sports biopic from South Africa; 'In the Mist of the Threesome’ – A Spanish film about kung fu in Barcelona and animated films from Japan, France, Russia and other countries.

TV series from around the world were also screened at the festival. Of particular interest was 'Prometheus’, a Russian TV series about a lost passenger plane starring Filipp Yankovsky; 'The Visitors’ – an Icelandic TV series about a man and a woman who suddenly switch bodies; and 'Non-Kosher’, a Canadian series about the country’s Jewish community.

One of the most popular programs was 'Wild Nights’, which showcased unusual and experimental films. Of particular interest was the Australian retro horror film 'Midnight with the Devil’ starring David Dastmalchian; 'The Damned’ – a short Spanish mystical thriller; 'All You Need Is Blood’ – a US zombie comedy; and a grotesque Japanese film about stalking titled 'The Door’.

Festival results

Films from 50 countries were shown at the Moscow International Film Festival. In addition to photographs from 'friendly countries’, films and series from the USA, Spain, Japan, France and other countries that imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia were also shown at MIFF. This proves once again that culture and art are outside of politics. Of course, many films and TV series touch on political themes and reflect the personal views of their creators, but politics should not interfere with film distribution. People with different views, values ​​and thoughts have the right to be heard equally all over the world, and this should have nothing to do with politics. Viewers should have the opportunity to watch movies and TV series shot in any country and decide for themselves what to watch.

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