Controversial Kazakh Film 'Harmony Lessons' Wins Top Award at Moscow's 2Morrow Film Fest

"Harmony Lessons"

Emir Bagazin's directorial debut also won a Silver Bear at the Berlinale in February for best cinematography.

MOSCOW -- Kazakh film Harmony Lessons took the top international prize late Sunday at Moscow's 2Morrow film festival.

The award at the event, dedicated to showcasing and encouraging independent film, was yet another for Emir Bagazin's controversial debut, which won a Silver Bear at Berlin last February for best cinematography for Aziz Zhambakiyev.

PHOTOS: THR's Portraits of Berlin Film Festival Stars and Filmmakers

Set in a provincial school where a harsh, authoritarian regime allows bullying and petty crime to flourish as a form of social control, the film's teenaged anti-hero Aslan, turns to violence, the only language apparently recognized in his world.

The movie, produced by state studio Kazakhfilm, has been scooping awards worldwide, but has yet to be released in its home country. Last month it had one small public screening at the Almaty, Kazakhstan premises of the Goethe Institute, Germany's international cultural body.

Baigazin is currently working on a sequel under a Berlinale residency grant in Berlin.

Although the film has garnered international critical acclaim, it is not Kazakhstan's contender for the best foreign language film Oscar. That film is Hemingway-inspired Old Man by Yermek Tursunov, whose last film Kelin made the Academy Awards international semi-finalists shortlist in 2010, the year Austrian director Michael Haneke's black and white period film The White Ribbon won the coveted statuette.

In other awards at the 2Morrow Festival, judged by a jury chaired by the New York Tribeca Film Festival's artistic director Frederic Boyer, Israeli writer-director Tom Shoval won "best story" for Youth, about two brothers in a dysfunctional family; "best role" went to Alexandra Finder for her eponymous role as a battered wife in Philip Groening's Venice special jury prize winner, The Police Officer's Wife; "best image" went to another Venice winner (Horizons, special jury prize) Ruin by Michael Cody and Amiel Courtin-Wilson; and "best sound" was awarded to Sam Fleischner's Stand Clear of the Closing Doors.

The festival, founded in 2007 by Russian film director Ivan Dykhovichny, became two separate festivals after his death at age 61 in 2009.

2Morrow is organized by his widow Olga Dykhovichnaya, and the other event, 2 in 1, is headed by the director's former business partner, producer and event organizer Renat Davletyarov.