The 19th annual Nika Awards ceremony took place in Moscow on Friday, March17. This year's awards yielded no realsurprises. Alexei Uchitel's character study Dreaming Of Space,Alexei Guerman, Jr.'shistorical drama Garpastumand Fyodor Bondarchuk's Afghan war epic and Company 9 managed to win multipleawards.

Company 9, which was the box-office sensation of last year in Russia, took BestFilm, Best Music and some technical credits. Oddly, while Bondarchukwas nominated for Best Director, Uchitel was not and theBest Director honour went to Guerman, Jr.

Uchitel's film took Best Actor for YevgenyMironov's performance and Best Cinematography forveteran Russian cinematographer Yury Klimenko's fluid camerawork.

It has almost become atradition that there should be an annual contentious issue dogging the awards, especiallysince 2002, when a group of prominent directors led by Oscar-winning directorNikita Mikhalkov alleged that the academy had becomeplagued by cronyism and established the rival Golden Eagle Award, based on theOscars.

This year'scontroversy came in the form of world-renowned Russian arthousedirector Alexander Sokurov attempting to withdraw hisHirohito biopic TheSun in protest. The Nika organizers refused hisrequest on the grounds that it came too late - nominations for The Sun had already been received forbest film, best screenplay, best art direction and best costume design.

Accordingto the Nika regulations, filmmakers must apply towithdraw within two weeks of the release of nominations, which was Oct. 1,2005. Sokurov also recently asked for the film to bewithdrawn from the Golden Eagle awards - a request that was granted. The film won the Nikafor Best Screenplay for Yury Arabov.

In a letter to the Moscow Times in response to the paper'scoverage of the controversy, Sokurov explained,"I am extremely worried by the estrangement and conflict in Russiancinema, which is expressed in the fact that we have two separate academies andtwo sets of awards, each of which is bombastically called the national one. TheNika and Golden Eagle prizes cannot be callednational, since the [Russian] cinema-goer has not seen the vast majority of thenominated films and never will."

The Sun received sparse distribution in Russia and a case in point,illustrating Sokurov's views was the Nika Best Actress award, which went to renowned St.Petersburg thespian Alisa Freindlikh, for herperformance in the little-seen psychodrama NaVerkhney Maslovke.

Alexander Semyonov, publisher of Russian trade publication Russian Film Business Today, which hasits own awards for excellence in the Russian film exhibition business, ventured,"Because there are two awards, there is no sense of unity or consensusamong Russian film professionals. There is no sense that either of these awardsare the main industry award and they are devoid of significance, since theyoften contradict one another."

Established by theSoviet Cinematographers Union in 1987, the Nikas arethe oldest film industry awards in Russia and the former Soviet Union and taketheir name from Nike, the goddess of victory. The prize statuette is modelledafter the sculpture of the Winged Victory of Samothrace.In 1990, a special Nika Academy was established tovote on the awards. Academy members who participated in 2006 numbered at 455,which is 71% of the academy's membership.

2006 Nika Awards:

Best Feature Film: Company 9, directed by Fyodor Bondarchuk

Discovery of the Year:The Italian, directed by Andrei Kravchuk

Best Film from the CISand Baltic Countries:

Tblisi, Tblisi (Georgia), directed by LevanZakareishvili

Best Documentary Film: Blockade, directed by Sergei Loznitsa

Best Director: Alexei Guerman, Jr, Garpastum

Best Screenplay: Yury Arabov, The Sun

Best Cinematography: Yury Klimenko, Dreaming of Space

Best Music: Dato Yevgenidze, Company 9

Best Actress: Alisa Freindlikh, Na Verkhney Maslovke

Best Actor: Yevgeny Mironov, Dreaming Of Space

Best SupportingActress: Irina Rozanova, Kolya - Perekati Poleh

Best Supporting Actor:Sergei Batalov, Kolya - Perekati Poleh

Best Art Director:Vladimir Aronin, CouncillorOf State