Clock ticking for Moscow fest


After months of infighting, the 29th edition of the Moscow International Film Festival has appointed a new program director — just 11 weeks before it is scheduled to launch.

Finnish cineaste Kirsi Tykkylainen, former head of the international department of the Finnish Film Fund, will take the festival's reins, according to the Russian Federal Agency on Culture and Cinematography, Roskultura.

Tykkylainen is tasked with attracting a range of international premieres before the festival begins its 10-day run June 21.

Tykkylainen, who once worked in the Finnish embassy in Moscow, is credited with having played a major role in bringing Finnish film to attention and acclaim in Russia.

After nearly a year of internal conflict that led to longtime festival administrator Interfest losing a bid to renew its contract, the appointment of a non-Russian to such a key role may be a wise move, industry insiders said Thursday.

"Russians love Finnish film because of Tykkylainen's work to promote Finnish film here. She speaks perfect Russian and is held in high regard," one Russian film critic said.

The announcement of Tykkylainen's appointment came a week after news broke that festival director Nikita Mikhalkov (helmer of foreign-language Oscar winner "Burnt by the Sun") had ousted Interfest following a falling out with its head, Renat Davletyarov.

The identity of the new admini-strative company, Mediafest, was revealed after the first session of the festival's organizing committee. Though an independent entity, Mediafest is closely connected with Mikhalkov's own film firm, Studio Tri-Te, Russian government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported.

Last week, Roskultura head Mikhail Shvydkoi refused to name the new company ahead of a festival announcement but stated that it had been chosen in "fair competition" after a tender for the job.

Industry observers say that, with such a short time before the festival opens, its success will depend on the quality and skills of the people working for Mediafest. It is thought that many former Interfest employees will now be working for Mediafest.

The new festival selection committee — which includes film critics Petr Shepotinnik and Andrei Plakhov as well as festival veterans Alexei Medvedev and Evgenia Tirdatova — has its work cut out for it. The internecine squabbles mean that not a single film has yet been officially invited or programmed, according to insiders.

"No directors or producers have been approached yet, but Mikhalkov is nothing if not a pragmatist and he and his team will know what films they are after," one insider said. "It may be crazy but the new team looks strong, and my bet is that they will pull it off."