Breaking Down More Barriers in Moscow with Film
By Denise Roza, Executive Director, Perspektiva
From November 17-20, the 3rd International Disability Film Festival “Breaking Down Barriers” was held in Moscow at the movie theater Salyut, still one of the most accessible movie theaters in town. More than 1,500 people attended the four day event. Viewers included teachers, social protection officials, students of film and social work, special educators, disability activists and other members of the community.
The festival showcased nearly 100 films from Canada, France, South Africa, Georgia, Russia, the U.S., Italy, Mexico, Denmark, Belgium, Ireland, the UK, Austria, Mexico, Germany, and India. Films were short and long features, documentaries, animation, films for children, about children, public service announcements, and more. The films from 20 countriescompeted for 11 awards. The awards were selected by a distinguished jury of Russian film-makers, chaired by the famous Russian director, writer, producer and actor, Aleksander Mitta, who graduated from the well-known All-Russian Cinema Institute in 1960. He is also a recipient of the distinguished Russian Film Award, 2001, TEFI. In 2004 he was awarded the title “Most Popular Artist of Russia.” At the start of the festival, Mr. Mitta was interviewed by national Russian TV. On National TV Mr Mitta remarked: “These are films about disabled people, but they are not for them, they’re for us. You get such a sense of fullness from them …And it’s all true.” This broadcast also included one of the heroes of Murderball, “Keith Cavill.” It was aired 5 times across all 9 times zones in Russia.
Along with screenings of films, the Festival included workshops, discussion groups, meetings with foreign and Russian film-makers and theirstars. Many of the winners of the 2002 Breaking Down Barriers Festival returned to Moscow to hold workshops for festival participants –, Algis Arlauskaus the director of the film “Letter to My Mother” traveled from Spain. The director of one of the 2004 Festival favorites “About Love,” Tofik Shakhverdeev, also led a master class and served on the jury. The master classes drew in students from the Moscow film schools, disabled activists making their own films, Moscow film makers and journalists.
Many of the films were presented by film makers themselves. Directors traveled from Canada, the UK, Belorussia and other regions of Russia to present and discuss their films with festival audiences. Aleksey Pogrebnoy, who traveled from the city of Kirov to present his film “Iron Henry,” was bombarded with impressions and questions after the screening of his film. The film provoked so much emotion that the discussions continued even when the new film began.
Yousaf Ali Khan of the UK also traveled to Moscow to present his film “Talking with Angels.” This 18 minute feature is set in the 70s amidst a forgotten landscape of decaying half demolished slums; 10-year-old Alan and his family make their way to the clinic for their Mother’s regular injection of Largactil, a drug intended to subdue her 'schizophrenic' inner voices and visions. Alan takes upon himself responsibility for holding his family together. He negotiates the two worlds his family inhabits: his mother's vivid inner world occupied by demons and angels, and the stark reality of everyday life haunted by poverty. To others Alan's family is a world of 'spazos', of madness, neglect, and eccentricity. To Alan, it is his family.
“Talking with Angels” moved the audience and left many feeling uneasy and questioning their own principles and being. After showing the film, Yousaf generously shared his own personal story with the audience about being raised in a family with mental illness and being shuffled from institution to institution.
More than 200 children participated in the children’s program. The children’s program featured a series of films provided by Sesame street especially for the festival, including new Russian segments that include disabled children (segments shown at the 2002 festival were all made in the US). Other films included a feature film “Beautiful Riding Hood, Bloody Mary,” produced with the participation of young disabled people from St. Petersburg. This film was chosen by the children as their favorite. A film made by the same directors won the “Children’s Favorite” in 2002. During intermission, the children met with Sesame Street puppets and ate popcorn that was generously donated by Absolut Popcorn.
Other Festival Highlights
Other festival highlights included the screening of “Murderball,” films from the Moscow film Museum and the film “Ringer” that was highly endorsed by the Special Olympics.
“Murderball” was one of the festival favorites and drew in more than 300 people to two separate screenings. The film was presented by Keith Cavill, one of the film’s main characters, who traveled to Moscow with funds from the US State Department. Each of his presentations started with “Ok, I’ll answer the question you all want to ask: ‘yes, it works’.” Keith made the audience laugh and reflect on their lives. He inspired question after question which made it difficult to bring the interaction to a close.
In collaboration with the prestigious Moscow Film Museum, 4 historic films that featured disabled heroes were screened. The films were chosen by the Museum’s director who is one of the most renowned film critics and historians in Russia – Naum Kleiman. One of those films – “The Two”, made in 1964 in Soviet Russia received an award in Cannes. The film is about a pianist who falls in love with a deaf girl to the dismay of his family and friends. The festival also featured two more contemporary Russian films – “the Harvest” and “Night of the Light” - that were extremely well received by festival audiences. Finally, Charlie Chaplin’s “The Tramp” was also featured. This is the story of a tramp who falls in love with a beautiful blind girl. Her family is in financial trouble. The tramp's on-and-off friendship with a wealthy man allows him to be the girl's benefactor and suitor.
The film “Ringer” was provided free-of-charge by 20th Century Fox. This film that also has DTS capacity was prepared for audio description and captioning, but not completed by the festival launching. Hence it will be shown in the future at 5 different screenings in Moscow. Equipment to screen the DTS films was donated by DTS to Perspektiva to promote audio description and captioning in Russia.
What was the most successful part of the festival? It brought together people from all walks of life to collaborate, watch and discuss films and learn more about the lives of disabled people. Film makers have also begun to refer to Breaking Down Barriers as “our festival.” Alexander Mitta said “this festival has a great future.” This year there were many more students and people without disabilities who attended festival screenings more than once.
The best films were announced at the “ET CETERA” Theater. A special awards ceremony was designed and prepared by a group of students from the prestigious National Film Institute in Moscow. They attended the festival and filmed key moments, interviewed festival jurors, developed a scenario for the ceremony, selected and rehearsed with the deaf dancers would perform between the presentation of awards, and designed the overall closing ceremony concept to correspond with the festival approach.
Prizes were presented by a number of distinguished persons, including Anthony Brenton, UK Ambassador to Russia, William Burns, the US Ambassador to Russia, Carel de Rooy (UNICEF Director in the Russian Federation and Belarus), and of course, the Jury Chairman Alexander Mitta.
Prizes were also presented by Mr. Oleg Smolin, the Russian Duma Deputy, and the following Jury members Mr. Grigory Libergal and Mr. Algis Arlauskas (Algis Arlauskas won the Grand Prix during the second Breaking Down Barriers Festival), and Marina Suslova, of the Moscow Government Public Relations Committee.
11 Prize Winners
11 films were selected by the Jury to receive prizes. “Murderball” - was presented with the 11th special “Jury Award.” The film was not an official participant in the competition, but the Jury deemed it worthy of an award and presented it with the “Special Jury Award.”
The Grands Prix was awarded to the Canadian film “Braindamaj’d” produced by Paul Nudler. The Jury Chair, Alexander Mitta, presented the award and said the film had it all: “it inspires, demonstrates resolve, is very professional and funny. That’s why we chose it.”
Braindamadj’ is “the emotionally gripping and visually stylish tale of an acclaimed music video director who survives a car crash, but is told he'll never walk or talk again. Brash, defiant and determined, he fights to get his life back.”
The Best Public Service Announcement award was given to a piece called “Solnyshko” (“Sun”) by the Azerbaijani Center for Educational Innovations. It is a PSA that promotes inclusive education in Azerbaijan. The Short Documentary Award went to the English film “Back to Bombay” by Rosa Rogers. Back to Bombay follows the deaf actress Deepa Shastri on a journey of discovery to India to visit the family she hardly knows. As she travels to meet her relatives, visits deaf schools, finds new friends, and experiences the social lives of young deaf people there, she starts to form a powerful sense of the life she might have led if she had been brought up in India rather than England.
Aleksei Pogrebnoy’s new film “Iron Henry” was awarded the best “Long Documentary.” The Short Feature award was given to the film “Talking with Angels” by Yousaf Ali Khan from Great Britain. The Polish film “See You” made by Grzegorz Fedorowsky’s was presented the award for the Best Film about Disabled Children and Youth.
The children chose to award the two-part film “Beautiful Chapeau, Bloody Mary” by Anna Kulygina and Alexei Urmancheev that features children from the St. Petersburg Branch of GAOORDI. Zhenia Lyapin, who starred in Tofik Shakhverdiev’s film “About Love,” the previous winner of the Children’s Audience Award, proudly presented the prize to Anna Kulygina. The Audience’s Favorite went to the film “Murderball” by Dana Ada Shapiro.
The Best Film About Love Award was awarded to the documentary “About People” by Tatiana Malova. The main character is an extraordinary artist. Her husband is a gifted poet. Their marriage is a 15-year exploit of love in the supreme meaning of this word. She has been using a wheelchair since childhood. He is completely and selflessly devoted to her: he carries her in his arms, shoots by camcorder images of the world inaccessible to her.
The Experimental Film Award was given to the poetic South African film “The Trinity of Being” by Shelley Berry. Shelley Berry attended the first Breaking Down Barriers Festival in 2002. “Abnormally Funny People,” a film by Al Edirisingle from Great Britain, won the award as the Most Uplifting Film. Abnormally Funny People is an observational documentary following the trials and tribulations of a group of disabled stand-up comedians rehearsing, producing and performing a groundbreaking comedy show at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Using humor and personal experience, the film hopes to make clear that people's differences need not stand in the way of personal growth and success
The Third International Disability Film Festival was made possible by generous support from the City of Moscow (Public Relations Committee, Department of Social Protection, the Committee on Advertising), the Russian Federal Culture and Cinema Agency, the United States Agency for International Development, the Embassies of the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States in Russia, the Unity of Journalism and Culture Foundation, the Netherlands Embassy MATRA Program, Internews, UNICEF, corporate donors – Nestle, Nike, Kendall Jackson, 20th Century Fox, Absolut Popcorn, DTS and a number of local NGOs. Informational support will be provided by Mayak, Ekho Moskvy, Stolista, Culture Radio, Foundation for Independent Radio, the Moscow Times.
There was extensive media support prior to and during the event. Informational support was provided prior to the festival by 2 TV stations, three radio and 2 Moscow based newspapers and journals. The first day of the festival, NTV – a major Russian National TV station - during its news programs aired a series of broadcasts on the festival. More than 15 TV, radio and newspaper reports appeared about the Festival.
But this was just the launching of the Moscow festival. We expect that mini festivals and screenings of films will take place in more than 20 Russian regions and 8 countries of the former Soviet Union. And these continuing min-festivals will be organized and led by disabled people and their families!
The Moscow film festival was organized by Perspektiva, a Russian non-governmental organization that for nearly a decade has provided support to help people with disabilities live full and fulfilling lives.
Reception at the film festival
Alexander Mitta (standing & holding certificate) and Keith Cavill
Mark Zupan from Murderball
Iron Henry by Pogrebnoy