Berlin gives Gorbachev cold shoulder

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The head of the Berlin International Film Festival refused to screen a Russian movie highlighting the threat posed by climate change despite a direct plea from former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Dieter Kosslick declined to include Russian director Konstantin Lopushansky's "The Ugly Swans" (Gadkiye Lebedi) in the festival's official program even though Gorbachev offered to come to Berlin to personally present the film.

The film, based on a 1979 novel by Russian sci-fi writers Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, sets out an apocalyptic vision of a world where climate change has caused some people to mutate and children try to hold adults accountable for environmental destruction.

In a letter obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, the former Soviet leader who now heads Moscow's Gorbachev Foundation and is president of environmental group Green Cross International told Kosslick that the film focuses on "serious problems for our civilization" and questions of "the survival of mankind."

The architect of perestroika and the man credited with ending the Cold War, Gorbachev, writing in Russian, said: "Life shows that not all threats have disappeared from our lives. On the contrary, several of them have grown, and new ones have appeared. Humankind and people urgently need to understand these threats and find the strength and courage to counteract them. 'Ugly Swans' is a film that warns about this."

In the letter, dated Sept. 7, 2006, Gorbachev said the film — which was supported by the Gorbachev Foundation and Green Cross International — had prompted in him a "deep emotional reaction."

"I would be glad if this film, subject to strict critical selection, may be accepted for screening within your world famous festival," Gorbachev wrote, adding that if necessary he would change his travel and work schedule for February to allow him to present the film in Berlin.

In a response dated Sept. 22, Kosslick promised to consider the film.

"I sincerely appreciate your pointing out this film to us and it is my great pleasure to learn that you would be willing to join us for the festival, should the film be selected to participate," Kosslick wrote, adding that he would "make sure to give this firm the proper attention for selection."

But in early December, Kosslick wrote to the film's producers, rejecting "Ugly Swans" on the grounds that it did not fit in with any of the festival's programs but expressing the wish for future cooperation.

On Thursday night, Konstantin Lopushansky, the film's St. Petersburg-based director, said: "Without Mikhail Gorbachev, Berlin might to this day still be a divided city. It's not every day a man of that stature offers to personally present a film at a festival."

The festival, which closes its 57th edition Saturday, attracts many Russian film producers and sales agents to its busy European Film Market, though this year some have complained about a lack of Russian films in the program.

One Russian sales agent, who preferred to remain anonymous, said: "There is not a single Russian film in the main competition and barely any Russian films in official selection. You would have thought the festival could have supported a screening of this film."

Kosslick was not available for comment Thursday, but Frauke Greiner, the festival's head of press, said: "We have more than 5,000 submissions, of which only 373 are selected. Films are selected by program directors and (by) committee and are always based on several opinions."

News of the Gorbachev letter emerged on the day another Russian film made its international premiere at Berlin. "Day Watch" (Dnevnoi Dozor), a sci-fi adventure produced by Russia's First Channel, screened Thursday at Berlinale Special.

The film, which gets a gala screening tonight, is set to be released in the fall across Europe by Fox Searchlight Pictures.
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