Organisers of the 2011 edition achieved a major coup by enticing Paramount Pictures to première their blockbuster Transformers: Dark of the Moon as the event's curtain-raiser. Questioned on the suitability of highlighting a movie that endorses American military values, festival president Nikita Mikhalkov responded: "If Hollywood wants to have a world premiere in Moscow and bring 80 representatives over, I can't really say no, can I?" Moscow moviegoers, given a week's start over the rest of the world, were also considered unlikely to complain.
The competition opened with another first, the debut feature of the former Czech president and dissident playwright Vaclav Havel, who was however too ill to travel to present his comedy Leaving, a semi-autobiographical account of a politician's travails as he is forced to move out of his official residence once he leaves office.
Other contenders for the top award included Postcard (Ichimai No Hagaki) by the Japanese director Kaneto Shindo who, now aged 99, has already won the competition on three earlier occasions, the first time as far back as 1960. The 2011 jury was headed by Geraldine Chaplin and included two prominent filmmakers, Amos Gitai and Karoly Makk, among its members.
Five of the competition entries were world premieres, with another 10 being screened for the first time outside their home countries. Foremost among the festival's more than 20 sidebar sections was the Perspectives section which displayed a range and diversity similar to the main competition. The festival programme included the recent Cannes offerings from Nanni Moretti, Lars von Trier, Michel Hazanavicius and Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
Documentaries have grown in importance in the Moscow festival and now have two sections devoted to them, one of them competitive. World chess championship Bobby Fischer and Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna were the subjects of two major documentaries, while Werner Herzog's recent excursion into the Russian regions provided the material for Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, featured in the competitive section.
Herzog received a lavish tribute with a retrospective of 12 of his movies, from his early masterpiece Aguirre: Wrath of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes) to Cave of Forgotten Dreams, his 3-D documentary about prehistoric cave paintings which has yet to go on general release.
Other filmmakers to receive tributes were the western maestro Sam Peckinpah, Hungary's Béla Tarr and the US indie veteran Rob Nilsson. The festival also presented a selection of films featuring actress Helen Mirren who was due to attend the screening of her latest movie The Debt, highlight of the festival's closing ceremony.
With 2011 designated the Year of Italy in Russia, the festival had no fewer than two sections devoted to cinema in the peninsula: "Focus on Italy", and "1675 Kilometres of Italian Cinema". There were also special panels dedicated to Italian-Russian relations, organised as part of the Moscow Business Square, a business platform set up as part of the Moscow festival. This included the third Moscow Coproduction Forum in which the producers of 18 pre-selected projects presented their projects to potential coproducers and held bilateral meetings afterwards. (Bernard Besserglik)
Moscow International Film Festival: www.moscowfilmfestival.ru