Filmmaker Alexander Sokurov, EFM president Beki Probst and actor-director-producer Fyodor Bondarchuk (Stalingrad) are among the high-profile names backing a new event in St. Petersburg.

The Saint Petersburg International Media Forum (SPIMF) will launch next month and will run Oct 1-10.

Russian Ark director Sokurov will coordinate the workshop programme for a Cinema Lab for up to 100 young non-professionals wanting to make films and will invite colleagues from the industry to give masterclasses.

The Lab will be held outside of St Petersburg in the seaside town of Repino and reprises the campus of budding filmmakers Sokurov oversaw during the Kinoforum in 2011.

Probst and Bondarchuk are members of an advisory board, including Mikhail Piotrovsky, the State Hermitage Museum director, and Georgiy Poltavchenko, acting governor of St. Petersburg, who are supporting Roskino in its organisation of the Forum, which will be held in the city’s Old Stock Exchange building on the Vasiliyevsky Island.

Ambitious programme

According to the organisers, a programme of public screenings of new film and TV productions will be targeted at St Petersburg’s cinemagoers. The line-up of some 50 premieres will include gala screenings as well as showcases of North Korean cinema, new British cinema and the best from this year’s editions of the Cannes and Locarno film festivals.

In addition, there will be sidebars dedicated to documentaries and films aimed at children and teenagers that address social issues.

The third edition of Roskino’s DOORS International Travelling Film Market will invite major international buyers and sales agents to visit St Petersburg to attend industry screenings of Russian films produced in 2014.

Moreover, a co-production market will be staged with the participation of the Northern Seas Film Forum, which was held in the Northern Russian city for the first time last year, and the privately organised P.O.V. development fund to bring Russian and international producers together in order to discuss potential co-productions.

The Content Market (Oct 6-9) will feature a TV content market, prepared in collaboration with World Content Market, and a showcase of Russian and international TV drama such as Penny Dreadful, True Detective, Homeland and Silicon Valley as well as a spotlight on the top 50 shorts directed by Russian film school graduates over the past five years in Global Russians.

In addition, 12 panels will address such issues as alternative distribution strategies, internet piracy, crowdfunding, format adaptation and transmedia storytelling.

Political climate

In a communiqué, Katya Mtsitouridze, Roskino’s CEO and the Forum’s general producer, suggested that “the political climate should affect neither the professionals that create films, TV or digital content, nor the public that such productions are meant for. In due time, an annual Forum will allow St Petersburg to establish itself as an internationally in-demand area for the entertainment industry.”

According to the organisers, SPIMF will feature participation by companies ranging from Warner Bros, Disney, Fox, HBO and Endemol through Netflix, Tribeca Film Festival to Power to the Pixel, PopUp Cinema and Russia’s Rambler&Co.

More than 1,200 media professionals are expected to attend the Forum.

It remains to be seen whether the deepening conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the growing tensions between Russia and the West will have any effect on the readiness of film and TV executives to make the journey to St Petersburg as the threat of all-out war in the region increases.

Latest attempt

The Forum will be at least the fifth occasion in recent times that St Petersburg has attempted to establish an international film event.

Almost 10 years ago, Russian businessman Mark Rudinstein had been the mastermind behind the St Petersburg International Film Festival, which was supposed to be held in July 2006.

The inaugural edition was called off at the eleventh hour following months of rumours about the organisers’ high flying plans. The death knell came after its artistic director, former Eurimages executive secretary Renate Roginas, announced during the Cannes Film Festival that year that she was stepping down before a single film had been shown.

A second attempt to create a film festival in the “Venice of the North” came in 2010 and 2011 with the Kinoforum, which will be largely be remembered by foreign guests as an overblown event more geared to promoting St Petersburg as a tourist or conference location or winning votes for the city’s Governor than showcasing the best in international cinema.

Last September, a new management team embarked on setting up a film festival, which ended controversially with the international jury disqualifying one of the competition films for its anti-humanistic message.

Last year’s event also ended in tears and dismissals, with little sign of an international festival being staged this year until Mtsitouridze unveiled her plans for the International Media Forum.