Coming of age

Coming of age

Now in its 21st year, the Message To Man film festival will showcase the best documentary and animated films.

Published: September 21, 2011 (Issue # 1675)


‘Vivan Las Antipodas,’ which opens this year’s festival, depicts life on opposite poles of the globe.

Message To Man, Russia’s only international festival of documentary, animated and short non-documentary films kicks off on Sept. 23 at Avrora cinema with Viktor Kossakovsky’s much-discussed Russian-Spanish documentary “Vivan Las Antipodas” (Long Live the Antipodes!) that was shown at this year’s International Film Festival in Venice.

In search of people and places to feature in his 105-minute film, Kossakovsky embarked on a breathtaking journey that took him to contrasting environments on different continents. The resulting movie, described by critics as a “feast for the senses,” shows the lives of eight people living in parts of Argentina and China that are antipodes — that is, directly opposite each other on the globe.

The festival’s venues include Avrora movie theater, Dom Kino and the Erarta Museum of Modern Art.

The festival was originally established to provide Russian documentary makers with a stepping-stone to the international film scene, and has been a springboard for young and up-and-coming film directors since it was first held in 1988.

The 21st Message To Man event continues to focus on documentaries. Many of the films shown at the festival have rarely been screened and cannot easily be found anywhere else in Russia. During its history, the festival has created a fascinating collection of more than 28,000 films that have been shown at it.

Italian and Spanish connections abound on the program of this year’s festival in recognition of the Russia-Italy and Russia-Spain cross-cultural festivals that are being held this year. Italian and Spanish filmmakers will sit on the jury, and special screenings of Italian and Spanish films have been arranged.

One of the most keenly anticipated events this year is the screening of Bulgarian-American director Tchavdar Georgiev’s film “The Desert of Forbidden Art” about the dramatic life of the Russian artist Igor Savitsky, who rescued more than 40,000 works by the country’s avant-garde artists from the KGB and moved them to Uzbekistan to create a unique art collection.

The event’s anthropocentric philosophy has been carefully preserved by the festival’s president, Alexei Uchitel.

For the people behind Message to Man, individual humans and human life are sacred. The project’s ideologists are convinced that the more personalities there are in the world, the better a place it will be.


Alexei Uchitel, president of the Message To Man film festival.

“The name of the Message to Man festival has also become its mission,” said Angelina Lee, a spokeswoman for the film festival. “It refers to the Bible and reflects the essence of the festival’s purpose: Faith, hope, love, grace and compassion — eternal human values that we always need in life, as well as in films.”

In the 15 years since it was launched, Message To Man has been diverse enough to incorporate films about aged Eskimo hunters, Swedish authors and refugees starting new lives. In 2001, the controversial German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl’s documentaries on the Nazis, “Triumph of the Will” and “Olympia,” were shown, with Riefenstahl, then aged 98, coming to St. Petersburg to enjoy a standing ovation during one screening.

The festival was initially held once every two years, but has developed into an annual event. Since 1995, the debuts have been shown at a separate competition.

Uchitel admits that the festival is surviving against the odds. “To say that we are going against the grain is not enough: Every year I get the impression that we are teetering on the edge of a financial catastrophe,” the filmmaker said. “Raising funds for a non-commercial film event is a Herculean task. Very sadly, in Russia, art house films as well as original domestic films interest hardly anyone, from producers to the authorities, and from potential sponsors to potential spectators. The appetite for what we have been doing is, unfortunately, scarce.”

Message to Man is divided into international and national competitions. The international jury, which always features a winner of one of the previous events, awards the Golden Centaur Grand Prix and several Centaur prizes.

Nearly 3,000 films representing 74 countries were sent to the festival’s jury for pre-selection, and more than 350 films will compete for the Golden Centaur in both sections.

This year, the top prize comes with a cash award of $10,000. Additionally, winners in best documentary film, best short documentary film, best short feature film and best animated film categories will get $2,000. The three best films in the debut category will also be awarded $2,000 prizes.

The jury features an array of internationally established professionals: Italian filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi, Russian documentary filmmaker Vitaly Mansky, Polish film critic Mariusz Frukacz and Armenian director and producer Harutyun Kachatryan.

Message to Man runs through Sept. 30 at venues around the city. For a full program, visit the festival’s web site at

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