Alexei Popogrebsky's second feature film Simple Things was the big winner at this year's Kinotavr Open Russian Film Festival in Sochi, picking up the Grand Prix for Best Film as well as prizes for Best Direction and Best Actor.

Popogrebsky, who came to international prominence and critical acclaim in 2003 with his feature debut Roads To Koktebel co-directed with Boris Khlebnikov, also shared the Film Critics Guild's special prize with Alexei Balabanov's controversial drama Cargo 200, which is set on the eve of perestroika in 1984.

The psychological drama Simple Things, which is Popogrebsky's first independently directed feature, opened in Russian cinemas by distributor Cinema Without Frontiers last Thursday (June 7) and has been selected for competition in Karlovy Vary.

At the awards ceremony on Monday evening before the Russian premiere of Andrei Zviagintsev' Cannes winner The Banishment, the jury under filmmaker Vadim Abdrashitov awarded the prizes for Best Script and Best Debut to Alexei Mizgiryov's drama Hard-Hearted which is set in the world of police corruption in Moscow.

Anna Melikian's quirky coming of age tale The Mermaid received the award for Best Actress and the Governor of the Krasnodar region's award for a film's representation of the Black Sea region.

In addition, veteran film historian Naum Kleiman received the 'prize for his contribution to the preservation of Russia 's cinematic heritage', while Venice Film Festival director Marco Mueller was awarded the 'prize for long-standing promotion and loyalty to Russian cinema' before the festival's opening film Gloss by Andrei Konchalovsky on June 3.

Unlike previous years, the 2007 edition of Kinotavr was exclusively made up of world premieres in the 14-title lineup for the feature film competition, with no less than six debuts by such film-makers as Yaroslav Chevazhevksy (Kuka) and Alexei Mizgiryov (Hard-Hearted).

However, the general opinion of the foreign guests attending this year's festival was that 2007 would not go down in cinema history as a vintage year for Russian cinema. Indeed, Kinotavr's artistic director Sitora Alieva had herself noted ahead of the festival: 'Meeting with Russian producers and directors, I hear only one word: money. 'We plan to spend', 'We plan to gain'. Conversations with investors, millions, budgets .'

She claimed that there was 'not enough cinema to be proud of' in Russia at the moment, the selection committee deciding to only select 14 titles from the 104 features produced in Russia since the last Kinotavr festival (compared to last year's lineup of 15). 'In this season, I received for selection some ridiculous auteur films and no commercial films; I deduce from this that there is money in cinema, but not enough ideas,' she said

Meanwhile, Kinotavr consolidated its position as an important gathering for the Russian film industry to discuss topical issue in seminars and workshops during the festival.

A two-day workshop on film advertising included a masterclass led by Los Angeles-based Jamie Bradshaw, creative director and co-owner of the agency Ignition Creative, and the parallel Film Market for local distributors and exhibitors organized trade shows and a roundtable on film financing with producers and film financing consultants from Western Europe.

After its premiere last year, Kinotavr again staged a Pitching Session for seven new Russian feature projects to be presented to potential production partners. Roman Borisevich (who produced Boris Khlebnikov's Free Floating and the Grand Prix winner Simple Things), Natalia Mokritskaya (Playing The Victim), Olga Vasilieva (Island) and Elena Glikman (Piter FM) were among the producers looking for financiers and distribution for their projects.

Speaking exclusively to Screen, Alexander Rodnyansky, chairman of the festival's board of trustees, explained that 'the business part of the festival - the market, the roundtables, pitchings etc. - turned out to be more mature this year. People have come more prepared and have an idea of how to work for their projects. They are beginning to understand that they need to have a dialogue with exhibitors, distributors and festival selectors. In the past, they expected a miracle to happen.'

Moreover, Rodnyansky revealed that his company STS is working again with actor-director Fyodor Bondarchuk after their 2005 box-office success with the Afghanistan war drama Company 9.

Bondarchuk is currently shooting an adaptation of the Strugatsky Brothers's sci-fi novel Inhabited Island on the Crimean peninsula. The four-and-a-half hour epic, which is one of the most expensive Russian features ever made at $30m (including $10m P&A costs), will be released Kill Bill-style in two parts in the cinemas later next year.

Kinotavr's foreign guests this year included representatives of France's Rezo Films, Norway's Fidalgo, the German regional fund MDM and Moonstone East as well as festival selectors from Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Karlovy Vary, Pusan, Cottbus, Wiesbaden and Belgrade.