Films from China and Iran took home the top prizes at the second edition of the Saint Petersburg International Kinoforum (Jul 10-15), which despite teething troubles was attended by 40,000 cinemagoers at six cinemas and other special venues.

Miaoyan Zhang’s second feature film Black Blood, which had its premiere at this year’s Rotterdam International Film Festival, was awarded the Grand Prix in the New Territories competition dedicated to new possibilities in modern cinema, while the jury for the Best Of The Best competition awarded its Grand Prix “unanimously” to Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s Golden Bear winner Nadar And Simin: A Separation (pictured) and gave a Special Mention to Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre.

The New Territories jury headed by German film historian Ulrich Gregor and including Italian actress Ornella Muti (she had to return to Rome briefly to appear in Woody Allen’s latest film The Bop Decameron, currently shooting in the Italian capital) and Icelandic director Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, presented its Special Award to Iran’s Vahid Vakilifar for his feature debut Gesher and gave the prize for best Director to Sri Lankan filmmaker Sanjeewa Pushpakumara’s debut Flying Fish.

In his acceptance speech, Pushpakumara dedicated his prize to the memory of Andre Tarkovsky and in support of Jafar Panahi before thanking all those who had made his $25,000 film possible, ranging from his mother who had singlehandedly organised the set catering through the Hubert Bals Fund to his teachers at the Asian Film Academy in Korea.

The Best Of The Best Audience Awards went to the section’s three most popular films according to the audience exit poll, the main award taken by Le Havre, followed by Charly Braun’s Beyond The Road and Bakur Bakuradze’s The Hunter.

Meanwhile, the St Petersburg Prize for Contribution to Cinematography was presented by the city’s vice-governor Alla Manilova to Marlen Khutsiyev, the subject of one of Kinoforum’s retrospectives. The veteran Russian writer-director, who had been awarded the Alfred Bauer Prize and the Ecumenical Jury Award at the 1992 Berlinale for his film Infinity, also received a special diploma from FIPRESCI in recognition of his “outstanding contribution to world cinema.”

Moreover, Kinoforum’s organising committee awarded a special prize Lee Tamahori for The Devil’s Double, which will be released in Russia by distributor West on 350 prints on Aug 10.

Amid all of the razzamatazz of the closing night ceremony, director Alexander Sokurov came on stage with Natalya Solzhenitsyn, the widow of the Nobel Prize winning writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and the winners of the film competition at the first Metropolis Campus.

196 budding filmmakers aged between 18 and 35 from all over Russia and CIS had attended five days of workshops and seminars at the Campus “Cinema City” in Repino with appearances by such industry experts as Metrafilms’ Artem Vasiliev, NFTS chief Nik Powell, Online AG’s C Cay Wesnigk, and US filmmaker Cory McAbee.

As many remarked after the closing ceremony, Sokurov’s genuine pride in his young charges came over on stage. The evident success of this first edition of Metropolis Campus and its productive atmosphere prompted Kinoforum’s president Alexey German Sr to say that this section should be further expanded in future years in order to bring new blood to the moribund Russian cinema.

However, the Kinoforum organisers are faced by a steep learning curve for the rest of the event, which was plagued by teething problems in its second year.

Foreign guests and critics were frustrated by the fact that the programme’s Russian films – including the retrospective on Marlen Khutsiyev – were in practice “out of bounds” as the films were screened without English subtitles. Moreover, some critics had to head for the exit at screenings for other films when the booming Russian voice-over in the cinema hall drowned out the original soundtrack.

As one West European film critic said, “It might have been better to save on the spending out so much for one of the receptions and invest this in having the subtitling done.”

Other guests suggested that Kinoforum should be more precise in future about the event’s goals: does it want to be a celebration of cinema for the local audience and foreign guests or provide a platform for St Petersburg’s political establishment to show itself in the best possible light while showcasing the tourist highlights from the State Hermitage Museum through the Peterhof Palace to the Russian Museum?

The 2011 edition of Kinoforum tried to do all three, but left those journalists wanting to report about the film programme disappointed that they weren’t able to see films presented appropriately. Others were mystified that the press centre saw no need to issue a guest list and that the festival daily appeared only in Russian for the last two days after having had one page in English for the first four issues.

While 57 films at Kinoforum were represented by directors and crew members, the event hosted a total of 700 guests from more than 50 countries.

International industry figures travelling to the city on the Neva included Cinecitta Luce’s Roberto Cicutto and Claudia Bedogni, European Film Promotion’s Claudia Landsberger, Rezo Films’ Laurent Danielou, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg’s Brigitta Manthey, festival directors Stefan Kitanov and Mihai Chirilov, Interfilm’s Hans Hodel and Unifrance’s Joel Chapron.

Meanwhile, even before the prizes were handed out in the Mikhailkovsky Theatre on Friday evening, plans were already unveiled for a new competition section – initially entitled “The Russian View” – and an award dedicated to “art in cinema” during the 2012 edition of Kinoforum.

Vyacheslav Zhigalov, president of the Politech Foundation, said the goal of the award was to inspire “a renewed interest of the audience in the timeless values in cinema, supporting genuine art and helping talented directors so that their films are viewed by a broad audience.”

Kinoforum also provided the platform for news about the establishment of the St Petersburg International Film School Of Perfect Cinematographic Mastery (VShKM).

The school’s director Konstantin Lopushansky explained that the two-year postgraduate course aims to help directors prepare their first feature-length film project under the guidance of prominent Russian and foreign scriptwriters and directors to present it to Russian and foreign producers.

Local and international experts being invited to come to VShKM for master classes include Stephen Frears, Wim Wenders, Carlos Saura, Alexey Popogrebsky, Pavel Lungin, and Alexander Sokurov. The City of St Petersburg government will provide Roubles 5m financing for this new venture from 2012.

Moreover, an agreement was signed by St Petersburg’s vice-governor Manilova with the Hungarian investor Demian Sandor of CJSC Investroy for investment on a public-private basis in the construction of the Euros 200m Palace Of The Arts. Concert, exhibition and conference halls as well as a multimedia studio are being planned over an area of 80,000 square metres on the city’s Vasilievsky Island.

“The project will increase the profitability of cultural and business tourism of the city and, at the same time, St Petersburg residents and guests will enjoy a new cultural and entertainment centre,” Sandor said.

It was suggested that the Palace Of Arts could serve as a future venue for the annual St Petersburg Economic Forum and the Kinoforum.