Moscow film festival changing hands

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MOSCOW -- Interfest, the company that has long run the Moscow International Film Festival, has been ousted in favor of organizers with closer connections to the fest's president, director Nikita Mikhalkov, Russian media reported Tuesday.

The move -- just three months before the late June opening of Russia's top international movie showcase -- threatens to make 2007 a disastrous year for a festival that has long been criticized for poor organization and autocratic leadership.

Long-standing events company Interfest, headed by Renat Davletyarov, failed in its bid to win the annual tender for running the festival, in what agency head Mikhail Shvydkoi told business daily Kommersant had been a "fair competition." The bidding is overseen by the Russian Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography.

The change comes after a public falling out between Mikhalkov and Davletyarov at last year's festival after a last-minute decision by Austrian director Michael Haneke -- citing work pressures -- to pull out as jury chairman.

Haneke's abrupt cancellation caused a scandal in Russia and drew a sharp rebuke from Mikhalkov, who described the decision as "unprecedented."

On Tuesday, Shvydkoi did not specify which company had won, but sources close to the Moscow festival identified it as Paragon, a company headed by Nataliya Semina, said to have close contacts with festival president Mikhalkov.

Kirsi Tykkylainen, the former head of the international department of the Finnish Film Fund, a fluent Russian speaker who once worked in the Finnish embassy in Moscow, is said to have been offered the post of program director.

If appointed, that decision might prove as controversial in Russia as the change of management committee. After last year's festival, two popular and key members of festival staff were sacked: chief programmer Kirill Razlogov and press chief Petr Shepotinnik, a film critic and television personality.

On Tuesday night, Shepotinnik said he knew nothing more of the changes in the festival management other than what he had read in the media. "I'm no longer associated with the festival and, therefore, am not qualified to comment," he said.

Others who still have close connections to the festival, however, predicted that, with only three months to go, the changes could spell disaster for the 29th edition of the event.

"As far as I know, (Semina) is Mikhalkov's cultural adviser. There is no way to reach her except through (Mikhalkov's film company) the Tri-Te studio," a source said.

"No offers have been made to anybody. Everybody says that Kirill Razlogov will become program director again, but he himself says he knows nothing about it. No films were selected, no DVDs submitted, no negotiations carried out, no Web site, no team. It is clear already that 2007 is going to be a disaster," the source added.

Mikhalkov could not be reached by phone, and a request for comment e-mailed to Tri-Te went unanswered.
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