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The stars are aligned: the outstanding Russian films that premiered at «The Spirit of Fire»

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Sergei Solovyov’s lifetime mission was to discover something novel and present it to the world. His films were a perpetual quest for a new cinematic language, and as a professor of film directing at VGIK he devoted many years to selecting and training talented young people. And the debut film festival, founded by Sergei Solovyov more than 20 years ago, became a window into the world for aspiring Russian filmmakers. Dozens, if not hundreds of striking biographies started with recognition at the «The Spirit of Fire», many films found a way to the hearts of viewers in Russia and abroad thanks to the festival. Today, on the threshold of the XXII festival, let’s recall some of the festival’s breakthroughs.


Premiered at “The Spirit of Fire”



What is it about? The film is about four friends running a shady business, however, there is no serious crime on their hands. Until, through Dimon’s fault, the friends end up in a skirmish, resulting in a police officer getting killed. The guys are put on the wanted list. To avoid being arrested, they steal a «bimmer» and drive to a backwater town. The friends fail to get to their destination safely: with their nerves on the edge, they are constantly provoked into conflicts, either with gangsters, or with long haul truckers.

Who is the director? Pyotr Buslov was born in 1976 in Khabarovsk. He graduated from VGIK. «Bimmer» was followed by the popular films «Vysotsky. Thank You for Being Alive» (2011), «Motherland» (2015), the TV series «House Arrest» (2018) and other films. As an actor Pyotr Buslov played in Ilya Khotinenko’s films («Odyssey 1989», «Call me Genie!»).

At «The Spirit of Fire»: the Grand Prix «The Golden Taiga» at the II festival in 2004.

What became of the film: In 2003 it was successfully released on the big screen (with a second run in 2022), since 2004 it has been repeatedly shown on television, had a sequel («Bimmer 2», 2006), and inspired a computer game (2003). It received a «Nika» award, participated in «The Window to Europe» festival and Moscow International Film Festival.

Watch at: Okko, Ivi, Kinopoisk



What is it about? Quiet, well-mannered Vitaly has moved from the provincial Serpukhov to Moscow and is trying to start a new life. But all the people he meets are crazy. At home, his neighbour happens to be a reckless schoolgirl Kristina, in the office his annoying boss Marina Vasilyevna gives him no peace, his psychologist friend Pavel, who helps him to cope with all of it, turns out to be a sadomasochist. Compared to them, Vitaly seems to be the only adequate person.

Who is the director? Roman Karimov was born in 1984 in Ufa. He started with short films and trailers for the BBC and other English TV channels. He made his debut in Russia with several short films and the documentary «Profession: Humorist.» After the comedy «Inadequate People», he made feature films «Smithereens», «Dark Water», «School Chums», «Dykhaniye».

At the «Spirit of Fire»: the Audience Choice Award «Golden Taiga» (the main award of the Russian competition program) in 2012.

After the festival: The film received five awards at the «Window to Europe» festival, including the Grand Prix, participated in the «Sputnik» Auteur Film Festival (Poland), and had a successful run on the big screen. A sequel «Inadequate People-2» came out in 2020.

Watch at: Ivi, Kinopoisk



What is it about? The six-year-old Vanya, who lives in an orphanage, is going to be adopted by an Italian family – hence his nickname «Italian». A cloudless life under the Mediterranean sun is waiting ahead, but the boy by all means wants to find his birth mother.

Who is the director? Andrey Kravchuk was born in 1962 in Leningrad. He graduated from the St. Petersburg Institute of Film and Television, made a start with short films and documentaries, worked on TV series («Streets of Broken Lights», «Agent natsionalnoy bezopasnosti»). He came out with «The Italian» and later directed «The Admiral» and «The Viking», which were among the highest-grossing Russian films of the 2000s and 2010s.

At «The Spirit of Fire»: The Audience Choice Award «Golden Taiga» (the main award of the Russian competition program) and awards for the actors Nikolai Spiridonov («The Crystal Leonov») and Maria Spiridonova (Special Jury Award) in 2006.

After the festival: The film was Russia’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Category of the Academy Awards. The film participated in the Berlin International Film Festival, festivals in Taipei (Taiwan), Chicago and Telluride (USA), Toronto and Sudbury (Canada), Morelia (Mexico) and others. The lead actor Nikolai Spiridonov received several awards. Outside of Russia, the film had a limited release in many European countries.

Watch at: Ivi



What is it about? Yakha, who lives in a small Chechen village, has a close friend Madina, they spend much time together. The girls dream of leaving their homeland after finishing school and of setting off into the big world to live the lives they will choose for themselves. Yakha’s older sister, Heda, dreams of freedom, too, but the price would be too high – if she decides to divorce, according to local traditions, her only son will be taken away from her. Will the young women be able to gain freedom? At what cost?

Who is the director? Malika Musayeva was born in Grozny, she was forced to leave Chechnya as a child because of the war. She lived in Nalchik, and completed a film directing course at the Kabardino-Balkarian University (class of Alexander Sokurov). Several shorts that she made at the university participated in international film festivals. At present she lives and works in Germany where she completed a master’s course at Hamburg Media School.

At «The Spirit of Fire»: Sergey Solovyov Golden Taiga Award for the Best Russian Debut Film in 2023.

After the festival: The film participated in the Berlin International Film Festival, and then in international film festivals in Hong Kong, Beijing and Thessaloniki (Greece). It was released in October 2023.



What is it about? 1914. The First World War is about to break out. The story is centered around four friends who are passionate about football. Two of them — the brothers Andrey and Nikolai – have lost their father, who bet all his money on the Russian football team at the 1912 Olympics, lost it and went insane. The protagonists decide to organize their own team. They need to buy land for a field – and they start playing football for money. With movers, news-boys, students, seminarians…

Who is the director? Alexey German Jr. was born in 1976 in Leningrad. He graduated from VGIK and made his debut with the film «The Last Train» in 2003. He is known for his films «Paper Soldier», «Under Electric Clouds», «Dovlatov», «Air». He was awarded the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival and received other festival awards, as well as the «Nika» Award in Russia.

At «The Spirit of Fire»: The Silver Taiga Award and the Special Award for Cinematography in 2006.

After the festival: The film participated in the main competition of the Venice Film Festival, was screened at film festivals in Chicago, Oslo, Hong Kong, and received the Golden Aries Film Critics Awards in several categories.

Watch at: Okko, Ivi



What is it about? The 27-year-old Victor «the Garlic» grew up in an orphanage. He dreams of escaping from his wife and son, who prevent him from living his life as he wants. The young man who knew little love as a child and grew up quite callous meets his ex-con father, now crippled. Victor decides to take his father to a nursing home, unaware of the adventures and dangers awaiting them on the way.

Who is the director? Alexandr Khant was born in 1985 in Khanty-Mansiysk. He graduated from VGIK and made several short films. After his debut film success, he directed the films «Robinson of Ensk» and «In Limbo». He received the «Nika» Award in the category «Discovery of the Year».

At «The Spirit of Fire»: At the 2018 festival, the film won the Golden Taiga Audience Choice Award, the Award for the Best Cinematography, and the Alexander Abdulov Award for the Best Actor in a Russian Debut Film — the award went to Evgeny Tkachuk and Alexey Serebryakov.

After the festival: The film received the Grand Prix of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, several awards of the «Window to Europe» Film Festival, the «Nika» Award, and participated in other international film festivals.

Watch at: Okko, Ivi, Wink



What is it about? The 28-year-old George Meskhi accidentally witnesses the murder of a famous goalkeeper. It turns his life upside down. He comes to the memorial service and, trying to be unnoticed, watches the wife and the daughter of the murdered man. Day after day, he returns to the crime scene. He becomes obsessed with the murder he witnessed, he takes an interest in everything related to the crime.

Who is the director? Dmitry Mamulia was born in 1969 in Tbilisi. He graduated from the Higher Courses for Screenwriters and Directors. In 2010 he made his debut feature film «Another Sky», which received awards at several festivals and the «Nika» Award (for the director in the category «Discovery of the Year»). Artistic director of the Moscow School of New Cinema.

At «The Spirit of Fire»: the «Golden Taiga» Award — the Grand Prix of the 2020 festival.

After the festival: It was presented at the Venice International Film Festival in the «Orizzonti» section, and participated in festivals in Pingyao (China), Thessaloniki (Greece), Gothenburg (Sweden).

Watch at: Okko



What is it about? The nine-year-old Andrey survives on very little parental love and care. On a stormy day, the boy finds a dead dog on the shore and decides that it is Chupacabra — a mythical creature that, as it is believed, attacks cattle and feeds on its blood. Andrey decides that the beast he found has magical powers and will be able to give him his dream life.

Who is the director? Grigory Kolomiytsev was born in 1990 in Krasnodar. He graduated from VGIK. «Chupacabra» is his feature-length debut: before it, he made the short films «Maria» and «I’m Staying», which participated in many international festivals and the weeks of Russian cinema in Berlin and London.

At the «Spirit of Fire»: At the 2021 festival the film received the festival’s general partner award «For the Preservation of Cultural Traditions» and the «Pavel Lebeshev Cinematographers Guild Award» (conferred on Alexey Venzos).

After the festival: The film was presented at the New Directors section of the San Sebastian International Film Festival.

Watch at: Okko, Ivi



What is it about? A family lives in a mountain valley. Aduchi, the man of the house, is obsessed with an idea of cutting a path through the mountains, and every morning he goes to work until the dead of the night. His wife Karagys is strict and taciturn. She is a hunter, a carpenter, and a mother raising her son. She lives in the present, the here and now, and believes that the path is a road to nowhere. How long will the family idyll last?

Who is the director? Mikhail Kulunakov was born in 1986 in the Altai Territory. He graduated from the St. Petersburg University of Film and Television. He started with television films and directing ballet performances. In 2015, he founded the Altayfilm Studio in Gorno-Altaysk. He made several short films, including «I Want to Sleep», «Staffage», «Hedge».

At «The Spirit of Fire»: In 2023, the film received a special award «For the Preservation of Cultural Traditions» from the festival’s general partner «Gazprom Neft».

After the festival: The film became the laureate of the «Eurasian Bridge» Festival (Yalta) and participated in the «Let’s Live» Film Festival (Moscow).



What is it about? Sonya and Masha are passionate about films, they dream of becoming movie stars. When they get what they wanted, to their surprise they realize that the life of movie stars is not what they expected. It is time for Sonya and Masha to grow up, to try to preserve their friendship and, for the first time, to think about who they really are.

Who is the director? Maria Loiter was born in Arkhangelsk. She graduated from London Film School, and made her debut with the short films «Icicle» (2015) and «Galangal» (2018) that participated in many international festivals. She wrote scripts for TV series and made video clips. «Movie Girls» is her feature film debut.

At «The Spirit of Fire»: The film won the Audience Choice Award «Flowers of Taiga Hope» in 2023.

After the festival: Maria Loiter received the Best Debut Award at the «Arctic Open» festival. The film was released on the big screen on August 17, 2023.

Watch at: Okko, Premier, Start, Wink



What is it about? A family drama about difficult moral choices one has to make in unexpected circumstances. A trucker by the name of Mukhin (derived from the word “fly”) gets to meet his daughter, a lonely and troubled adolescent. While the hapless driver is trying to return to his former carefree life, the girl commits arson, and in order to pay for the damage, Mukhin has to work driving a cesspit emptier.

Who is the director? Vladimir Kott was born in 1972. He graduated from the Higher Courses of Directors and Screenwriters and began his career as a director of TV series («Rodstvennyi obmen»). «Fly» is his feature film debut. The film and the ones that followed it («Gromozeka», «Thawed Carp», «Disobedient») participated in many international festivals.

At «The Spirit of Fire»: The film won the «Bronze Taiga» Award in 2008.

After the festival: The film was awarded the “Golden Cup” of the XI Shanghai International Film Festival in the Best Film category, the Best European Debut Film Award of the Children’s Film Festival in Zlín (Czech Republic), the Best Debut Award at the Eastern European Film Festival in Cottbus (Germany), the FIPRESCI award at the European Film Festival in Lecce (Italy).

Watch at: Okko



What is it about? Sofichka, after 20 years in a Gulag camp, returns to her native village in Abkhazia. She recollects her whole life: her happy youth days, love, and the death of her husband. The film is a screen adaptation of the eponymous novel by Fazil Iskander.

Who is the director? Kira Kovalenko was born in 1989 in Nalchik. She completed a film director’s course at the Kabardino-Balkarian University (class of Alexander Sokurov). «Sofichka» is her first feature film. Her second feature film «Unclenching the Fists» participated in the «Un Certain Regard» program of the Cannes Film Festival and at the Toronto Film Festival.

At «The Spirit of Fire»: Award of the festival’s general partner «Gazprom Neft» «For the Preservation of Cultural Traditions» in 2017.

After the festival: The film participated in the competition program of the «Dark Nights» Film Festival in Tallinn, and in the festivals Silk Road Film (Ireland), Fajr (Iran), and Pesaro (Italy).