Toronto opens its exhibition in the midst of the Venice Film Festival which means that those two have to share the films. For the time being such a typical scheme suggests that a world premiere is held in Venice and in a couple of days a film is exhibited in Toronto as an American premiere. However, recently the Venice Festival has been suffering increasing economic troubles. So far the Palace hasn’t been built, the festival territory has been turned into a construction site, the budget is cut, and the infrastructure is not suitable for movie business operations. It’s exclusively due to valorous endeavors of Marco Müller, the director of the Festival, that the Venetian boat keeps afloat. There’re talks now that Müller should unite Venice and Rome festivals because the government has no means to fund those two very costly events.
Meanwhile the Toronto Festival policy is getting tougher and tougher; it has already depleted the Montreal Festival, its immediate neighbor-rival and now tries to do the same with the Venice. The Toronto Festival Director Piers Handling insists that this is the very place where the art-house hits’ premieres took place. And he does have a serious argument: Toronto out-of-competition program opens the door to the American market, and by its unofficial rating surpasses all A-class festivals with the exception of the Cannes one. Venice stands frozen in decadence while things are humming in Toronto. By the middle of the Venice Festival Lido is getting empty; the majority of the business people has already flown oversees.
Venice still remains a window to Europe for Russian cinema: this is the place where our films regularly participate in competition, where we receive prizes and a push-off to international success. This year Alexsei Fedorcheko’s Silent Souls was very well received in Venice. However, the true potential of this film can be reveled only in Toronto. The same goes for Alexei Popogrebski’s Berlinale prizewinner How I ended This Summer and Sergei Loznitsa’s My Joy which was selected for in-competition of the Cannes Festival. Those are the films that don’t really resemble the typical productions of the Russian socially engaged "new wave". These films are not just set in "province" shown as a social phenomenon, but in some metaphysic area.
However, the main event for the Russian cinema in Toronto will be premiere of Kray which hasn’t been exhibited anywhere else. Director Alexei Uchitel has been experimenting in different ways for a long time and he proved his ability to change his skin. Kray is his new transformation – this time into a creator of a large-sized epic film. First of all it strikes a viewer with its staged scenes, including construction of a destroyed railway bridge over a rapid river and almost mythical steam engine races through snowy taiga. Coming second after Burnt by the Sun-2 budget-wise this film also touches upon Second World War in its own fashion interpreting its mythology which is noticeably changing by comparison with its Soviet presentation.
This film is set in a taiga village for the exiled where fates of Russians and Germans, winners and losers get intertwined against the background of a severe mysterious nature of this mythological "Kray". Vladimir Mashkov plays the part of the contused soldier-steam engine driver who is dreaming of setting a speed record. Kray is to be screened on the Toronto Festival first day. This screening will determine the attitude to Russian film industry ambitions. After undergoing a regular institutional reform it’s striving in search of an ideal path between art-house and blockbusters. Alexei Uchitel is searching for this path somewhere in between.