(30/11/06) – The Kiev Film Festival is affectionately known as ‘Molodist’ (meaning ‘young’) and was an unusual experience in both location and atmosphere between the 21 and 29 October. In its 36th year, Molodist was a quite outstanding programme of films due mainly to its chief programmer searching everywhere from the basement at Cannes to culling from other major festivals. Therefore, it became something of a revue of the best films this year with the sole purpose of screening, in the far eastern outpost of Europe, the most innovative new talent in world cinema. Everything that was presented – the shorts, the documentaries, the animations, along with the voluminous non-competition sections – created a stir with the audiences and critics alike.

Looking to the short competition first, this was divided into student and short films sections, and ones that stood out here were many. However, the animation Our Man in Nirvana by Jan Koester was flirting with the fantastic. Jan himself was to later inform that his little masterpiece took him a full three years to complete. What the modest man of the Molodist didn’t publicise was that his work won the best short film at this year’s Berlinale so the previously uninformed can therefore claim impartially by acknowledging this as a work of greatness. The animation, at just over ten minutes, tells the story of a guitarist making his way to a concert, only to receive an electric shock while playing onstage. At this point he takes a trip into the netherworld between life and death. Heaven is luring and quite dreamlike, with a nod to the hallucinogenic cartoon graphics of 1960s, whereas life is presented as less colourful and adds to something more subdued for this already adored rock star.

Particularly powerful in the short student film competition was the South Korean entry Rabbits and Bears by Hyo Jeong Kim. A man dressed in a bear suit hands out leaflets in a busy street. Soon he spots a girl dancing in a rabbit costume, doing similar work, and garners enough courage to give her his phone number. Though they speak briefly, neither knows what the other actually looks like. What takes place next provides eerie disquiet in what we thought would be a film about cute love. Such was the commotion Rabbits and Bears caused it was on the cover of the festival’s four-page glossy daily news report the day after its screening. Not surprisingly, it won the Best Student Film awarded by the International Federation of Cinema Clubs (Fédération Internationale des Cine Clubs) or FICC as it’s more commonly known.

In the feature competition, Play by Chilean director Alicia Scherson was one of only two entries from outside Europe and Russia in this year’s Molodist. In what was such a sweet film, a complete antidote in mood to the first screening 13 (Tzameti, by director Gela Babluani), Alicia has created two characters searching for love and who come together by fate in an unlikely denouement. The female lead is a nurse called Cristina, an outwardly carefree but inwardly caring woman looking for her soul mate. Tristán is an architect, also lacking in real ambition and being cheated on by his beautiful but high maintenance girlfriend. The supporting characters are excellent, particularly Tristán’s blind mother and her sleazy magician boyfriend. Play has won many prizes, deservedly so, but unfortunately the FIPRESCI one has eluded its director this time round, so any appraisal is only compensation in the circumstances but certainly doesn’t detract from an excellent talent.

The FIPRESCI prize competition consisted of 13 feature-length films which made it particularly difficult to pick a winner as at least four or five were of a very high standard and each could easily have won any competition. This assumption rendered itself true as Fresh Air (Friss levegö) (the first feature by award-winning shorts director Ágnes Kocsis) had very recently won the FIPRESCI prize in Warsaw so couldn’t be awarded in this section again. The winner of the FIPRESCI Prize was the brilliant Euphoria (Eyforia) by Russian director Ivan Vyrypayev. A candidate for a prize in any competition section, this was underlined by its also winning the best feature-length film by the International Jury, though Corneliu Porumboiu’s 12:08 East of Bucharest (A fost sau n-a fost) (Short-listed for the FIPRESCI prize) was to win the Grand Prix for the best film of the international competition, a more prestigious prize as it includes shorts, animations and documentaries.

Euphoria was chosen by the FIPRESCI Jury because it immediately engaged the audience with its simplistic way of telling the story of a doomed love through characterisation and powerful acting, along with excellent sound, photography and perfect editing. The choice location of rural Russia set against the backdrop of the Steppe helps carry the protagonists inexorably towards the trajectory of their fate. It is the type of film that doesn’t come along often and is harder to find every year; it gives the audience an adrenalin rush through artistic invention, not expensive thrills.

The sour note of this year’s Molodist was the somewhat untimely news in the middle of the festival concerning General Director Andriy Khalpakhchi, its founding father and visionary for the past 16 years. He announced that he was retiring from his chief duties at the festival but will remain as the main face and host. His announcement alluded to the recent changes and outside involvement and that he felt the pressures from these upheavals, particularly the change of venue and other internal issues had completely changed the spirit of the festival. After taking the Molodist so far, it is hoped his loss won’t be too detrimental and that his influence will remain in this great festival of youth.