The first St.Petersburg International Film Festival is slated for 18 - 31 July. The festivalis the brainchild of businessman Mark Rudinstein,head of Kinomark, a Moscow-based company thatcurrently runs Russia's Golden Ram Awards and the specialised Faces of Love andKinotavrik film festivals.

'This is a veryambitious undertaking,' Rudinstein said, 'The idea isto be on the level of Cannes, Venice, Berlin and San Sebastian.'

The festival has beenembroiled in controversy for a number of reasons, one of them being itsproposed location - the historical and cultural landmark Palace Square. Rubinsteinwants to set up temporary screening tents, an outdoor cafe and other facilitieson the square. Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovskyhas spoken out against the festival plans on more than one occasion at onepoint calling them a 'farce.' However, St. Petersburg governor Valentina Matvienko has signed adecree approving municipal support in organising the festival, but for the timebeing the festival will receive no public funding.

Budgeted atapproximately $7.5m, the festival is to be financed by Kinomark,with proceeds from Kinomark's sale of the Kinotavr Film Festival (held in Sochi,Russia) nearly a year ago and as-yet unnamed private sponsors.

The festival will havean official competition section of 18 world premieres competing for the 'GoldenAngel' statuette and $100,000 promotion support as well as Silver Angels forBest Director, Best Actor/Actress.

The festival will alsofeature competitive programs devoted to Russian and European films to be judgedby European and Russian juries made up of film school students. One notableoccurrence that should help expand the festival program's scope is one of thebest specialty film festivals in Russia, the Message to Man Film Festival,joining as a festival sidebar. Message to Man, now in its 16th year,is a unique forum in Russia for documentaries, animation and short films.

The festival presidentwill be local St. Petersburg director Dmitry Meskhiev, winner of the Best Director prize at the 2004Moscow Film Festival for his film Our Own (Svoyi).Ex-Eurimages executive secretary Renate Roginas has been appointed on a five-year contract as ArtisticDirector whose task amongst others will be to assemble the seven-membercompetition jury as well as attracting big-name guests.

Some within the filmindustry are dubious of the festival's chances of success as St. Petersburgalready has an international film festival, the Festival of Festivals, held inlate June at roughly the same time as the Moscow International Film Festival.

Alexander Semyonov, publisher of RussianFilm Business Today, was doubtful of Rudinstein'schances of success.

'Rudinsteinhas never run a prestigious film festival,' said Semyonov,'He has not proven himself to be an effective organiser. Nikita Mikhalkov has revived the Moscow Film Festival - theresults are evident. Rudinstein attempted to make theKinotavr truly an international film festival, but hedidn't succeed.'

Alexander Pozdnyakov, spokesperson for Lenfilmand president of the St. Petersburg Film Critic's Association, had a moreoptimistic outlook.

'St. Petersburg isfinally getting the film festival it deserves. For many years, St. Petersburgwas in Moscow's shadow [festival-wise]. You had small, low profile festivalssuch as Festival of Festivals, Message to Man and others. Nobody shouldprohibit a mass event that would develop the image of St. Petersburg in theeyes of the world. It is, after all, the birthplace of Russian cinema, wherethe first film screening in Russia was held.'