Film Festival Focuses on Hidden Truth
Published: September 18, 2013 (Issue # 1778)
The Soviets never cared much for documentaries. Anything that challenged the carefully constructed, ideological foundations of the socialist state was seen as dangerous. Few such films, even during the thaw of the 1980s when documentaries began playing a larger role in the Russian film industry, made it past censors and into theaters. In a carefully managed reality, it’s easier to keep things to a simple matter of black and white. This is never true though; life, after all, is Technicolor.
Every year, the Message to Man Film Festival, Russia’s only documentary film festival, demonstrates that the human experience is far more complicated than what it may seem from a perfunctory glance. 2013 marks the 23rd edition of the festival since it began in 1989, in what was still Leningrad, and when parts of the films were muted because of perceived subversive content.
Beginning on Sept. 21 and running until Sept. 28, Message to Man will screen 233 films from 37 different countries in theaters throughout the city. As is the tradition, ticket prices for all showings range from a mere 50 rubles ($1.54) to an affordable 100 rubles ($3.08).
The program includes an international competition featuring 54 films divided into three categories: Feature-length documentaries, short documentaries as well as animated films. A domestic competition will present films either made in the Russian Federation or bearing a “National Film” certificate and will feature English subtitles for non-Russian speaking viewers.
Other portions of the lineup include the In Silico International Competition of Experimental Films as well as the Docville Theater Program, a series of theatrical performances incorporating film or video that challenge existing conventions of what defines a genre.
More than 100 films will be given their Russian premiere at the festival, including four world premieres, along with 19 special screenings, musical performances, exhibitions, meetings and various workshops featuring directors and producers.
This year also marks the first time that selected films from the program will be screened simultaneously at a sister festival in Moscow. While the main festival will last a week in the northern capital, Moscow will only have three days, Sept. 23-25, to share the experience.
Alongside the iconic festivals held in Cannes, Berlin, and Venice, Message to Man ranks as a Class A festival for documentary films. Under the direction of Alexei Uchitel, the Russian filmmaker who has acted as president of the festival since 2010, the event continues to expand from year to year and has become an anticipated event on the St. Petersburg cultural calendar.
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