Disdain replaces acclaim

Presenter stalks offstage on live TV

Scandal hit MTV Russia's live national movie awards ceremony last week when film director Vladimir Menshov refused to present the viewer-voted award for best movie after realizing which film had won.

Menshov, one of Russia's leading directors, was onstage Thursday night at Moscow's Pushkin Theater when he opened the envelope with details of the winning film — the World War II drama "Svolochi," in which a group of teenage criminals is sent on a suicide mission behind German lines.

Menshov gasped as he read the contents of the envelope, looked up and said: "I'm not going to hand over an award to a film that discredits my country, let Pamela Anderson (another of the evening's presenters) do it instead."

He then turned, dropped the envelope and stalked offstage, refusing to comment further.

"Svolochi," directed by Alexander Atanesyan, tells the supposedly true story of a group of teenage convicts given the choice by the Soviet high command to serve severe sentences or cleanse their past crimes in a highly dangerous guerrilla mission. It provoked a storm of controversy when it was released last year in Russia.

Russian military and security bodies were horrified by claims that the story was true. The Federal Security Service, successor to the KGB, said no such mission ever took place, and war veterans condemned it as an insult to the memory and sacrifice of real Red Army heroes.

But audiences — particularly the movie's core teenage audience — flocked to see the film, with a title that translates to "bastards." It proved to be a springboard to success for a young cast of unknowns who were subsequently flooded with film and TV offers.

After the awards ceremony, Atanesyan told reporters that Menshov's reaction had left him unmoved. "Menshov has the right to his opinions about film, and he used that right," Atanesyan said.

On Friday, MTV spokesman Vladimir Smirnov said Menshov's reaction had been totally spontaneous and "was not part of the scenario" planned by MTV.

"Vladimir Menshov offered his own point of view on 'Svolochi.' We treat Vladimir — one of the most well-known Russian film directors — with great respect, as well as the MTV viewers who made their choice. They watched the film and liked it," Smirnov said.
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