“Message to Man” Biography

The Background

Before “Message to Man”, there existed a documentary section in the program of the Moscow International Film Festival.

Soviet cinematographic industry suffered as much as the national industry. The obligatory official information was presented in the form of newsreels before screening any fiction film. “Ideologically approved”, informative or landscape films that exceeded twenty minutes were also shown in specialized cinemas. Leningrad had two or three such cinemas. Films that didn’t pass censorship were immediately put on a shelf.

However, occasionally, truthful films managed to slip through the censorship by using figurative language, as it was more difficult to file a claim with them.

The Leningrad Documentary Studio was renowned for such an approach. They got awards at international cinema festivals that favored the struggle against “bourgeois ideology”, as they used to call it, in the countries of the Eastern bloc. There was a shortage of great films, and the audience didn’t hope to see any reality except for the one, imposed ideologically: they didn’t trust such films and thus didn’t watch them. Furthermore, at all times the audience prefers mere invention – fiction films – to documentaries.

Soviet cinemas offered a limited amount of foreign films which were carefully selected and censored. For this reason, the Moscow International Film Festival, which offered a far wider program of motion pictures, enjoyed a great success. Fiction films were presented by actors. Foreign stars literally eclipsed other programs.

Thus, documentary films were at the outskirts of the Moscow International Film Festival.

New times made it possible to release the banned films, to use a prohibited newsreel while covering taboo topics.

National documentary industry started to boom. Moreover access to foreign films of all genres (and not just about animals and submarine life as it used to be) was not restricted any more.

Russia itself became open to the world and came into vogue.

Cinematographers have a more acute sense of reality. In 1988 in Bolshevo, the concept of development of the documentary cinema as well and the shows of documentary films were discussed on the initiative of the USSR Filmmakers’ Union during a role play (a fashionable kind of symposium at that time). Among a dozen of programs, the one proposed by a director Mikhail Litvyakov (Leningrad) got the majority of votes. In particular, the program envisaged organizing an International Documentary Film Festival on the banks of the Neva River.

Finally, the authorities transformed the documentary section of the Moscow Film Festival into a new festival “Message to Man”. Mikhail Litvyakov was appointed the director of the new festival by the Goskino order dated 30.08.1988. The regulation stated: “The USSR State Committee on Cinematography, The USSR State Committee on Radio and Television Broadcasting and the USSR Union of Cinematographers organize the Leningrad International Documentary Film Festival “Message to Man”… with the aim of promoting contacts and exchanging ideas between cinematographers of different countries, that pursue the issues of kindness, social justice and peace”.

January 16, 1989 – Upon the resolution of the USSR Council of Ministers (N 29), the organizing committee, headed by the chairman of the Leningrad Executive Committee Vladimir Khodyrev was instituted. Controlling functions were assigned to Valentina Matvienko, deputy chairman of the Leningrad Executive Committee of people’s deputies on culture and education

To organize the festival, the International Documentary Film and Television Centre “Centaur” (IDF&TC “Centaur”) was created on the initiative of the USSR Goskino, the USSR Filmmakers’ Union, the State Committee on Television and Radio Broadcasting and the Leningrad Executive Committee in august 1989. April 25, 1991, according to the decision of the Petrograd Executive Committee, the festival obtains an office on the Martynov embankment.

History. No one in Saint-Petersburg is aware of how to organize a film festival. Moscow colleagues from “Sovinterfest” come to render support. For the first time the festival is held on January 25–31, 1989. More than 1000 participants and 273 accredited journalists take part in the event; the international film market is organized on these days. The festival is headquartered at the “Leningrad” hotel. The festival’s success surpassed all expectations. The American theatre and ballet star Natalia Makarova, who was allowed to come to Russia for the first time after 1970, becomes the sensation of the festival. The film “Ballerina” about her is shown in the out-of-competition program of the festival. However, the freedom of speech is still limited. The Arkady Ruderman and Yuri Khaschevatsky film “Counterclaim” is being censored when it comes to the remark of Ales Adamovich about the state authorities – the sound is turned off. The film is awarded the Grand Prix a few days after the screening.

During the past decades the oldest Leningrad–St. Petersburg film festival remains faithful to its main idea: to show films which highlight humanistic ideas using a truly cinematographic language. The festival developed and transformed together with time.

According to the initial regulations the festival consisted of an international competition, informational screening, a retrospective, discussion club “We” and initiative screening. The festival was open to documentary, experimental, scientific and television films and newsreels, shot exclusively on 35 or 16 mm film. No film which was shown on other festivals or screenings was admitted for the contest. The festival envisaged four awards: the main prize, two special prizes and the award for the best film according to viewers’ sympathies.

Later on, the regulations, the number of competitions and awards as well as time of the festival changed several times due to a number of reasons.

The second festival was held in 1991. It was already organized by the local team. The third one, transferred to June, was held in 1993. Since 1994, the “Message to Man” Festival is organized annually.

1994. For the first time short and animation films are included to the Festival program. It was the reaction to the crisis in the Russian documentary industry and in the Russian cinematography in general. This step led to a sharp increase in the amount of spectators.

1994. IDF&TC “Centaur” is newly registered as a non-governmental organization.

1995. The International Debut Competition, accessed by an independent international Jury, was included in the Festival program.

1995. By the order of a member of Saint-Petersburg Government, the committee chairman on culture Vladimir Yakovlev, “Message to Man” Festival is approved as an International Festival, held with the support of the Russian Committee on Cinematography, St. Petersburg Government and its cinema department, St. Petersburg Filmmakers’ Union. Financing is arranged by the Russian Committee on Cinematography, the St. Petersburg Mayor’s Office and from sponsors’ contributions.

1998. The Russian documentary cinema competition joined the program. The special Jury comprises notable Russian filmmakers. The contest is open and has no selection. Every film sent to the festival is screened during the festival days.

1998. “Message to man” sets a new record. 170 films in the International and Debut competitions, 50 Russian documentary films in the National competition and 88 films are shown in the Special program. In total, the festival program comprises 308 films from 50 different countries. Screenings are held in “Dom Kino”, “Avrora”,”Rodina”, “Barrikada”, “Iskra”, “Svet”, “Leningrad” cinemas in Saint-Petersburg and “Avrora” cinema in Petergof.

2000. For the first time, Russian documentary films shot on video media are included in the festival program out-of-competition. It was done for evident reasons: Russian directors stop using film due to cost savings and the new possibilities which the video offers.

2001. Due the shortage of funding festival had to call off National documentary film competition. Instead, it is replaced by the screening of the winners of the Yekaterinburg Open Documentary Festival “Russia”.

2001. The arrival of 98-year-old Leni Riefenstahl became the sensation of the XI Festival. The films of Leni Riefenstahl and Dziga Vertov were shown during the Special program “Documentary Film in Totalitarian Countries”. Her visit raised vivid debates in the society. City authorities prohibit screenings of Riefenstahl film “Triumph of the Will” in the state cinema “Aurora”. Nevertheless, the screening takes place in the “Dom kino” cinema. In the next two years, the Festival President Mikhail Litvyakov had to give his explanations in various state authorities, including the Prosecutor General’s Office and the State Duma.

2002. On the initiative of the director Gennadiy Poloka, a member of one committee, furious due to the arrival of Leni Riefenstahl, the Ministry of Culture cuts the festival financing by 500 thousand rubles.

2001. To be admitted to the Russian documentary competition, the films are being selected now – the fact, correctly showing the situation: the crisis period for Russian documentary directors is over, at least in terms of quantity of films produced.

2001. The Pavel Kogan Prize was introduced by Lyudmila Stanukinas for the best Russian short documentary film shot in the traditions of the Leningrad Documentary Film Studio (LDFS). The director Pavel Kogan (1931–1998) was the LDFS leading personality.

2002. Films on video are admitted to the National competition for the first time.

2002. The Victor Astafiev Prize is instituted. The Jury of the National competition awards the director whose films highlight the issues of mercy, kindness, love and respect to the world around us. Viktor Astafiev (1924–1989) is a soviet-Russian classical writer.

2003. The fee, although lesser a nominal one, is introduced to watch the films of the festival. Russian documentary films, as a matter of principle, remain free.

2005. IDF&TC “Centaur” is illegally evicted from its office at Martynov embankment, despite decisions of 12 courts in favour of the Centre. “Centaur” had to occupy temporary office for the next four years.

2004. The Danya Gurevich Prize for the best cinematography was introduced by the Dan Revival Projects Association. Danya Gurevich (1974–2002) was the cameraman of the Sergey Bodrov Jr. filming team, who tragically died at the Karmadon gorge.

2005. The Prize for the best Russian cinematography was instituted by the Victor Mikhalchenko Charity Foundation. Viktor Milhalchenko (1949–2004) was a cameraman of the LDFS.

2006. The term of the festival was moved to July. Due to the lack of financing, the festival was supposed to join the International Cinema Festival “Saint-Petersburg”, which the city authorities and producer Mark Rudinstain intended to arrange on temporary installed cinemas on Dvortsovaya square. The public strongly objected to it. Finally the initiative was not realized and the main square of St. Petersburg remained vacant.

2006. The début competition and the special jury were cancelled due to insufficient funding. The best young talents in the International and National competitions are determined by corresponding juries.

2007. Films on video and electronic media enter the program for the first time.

2007. The Russian documentary competition is transformed to National competition “Gateway to Russia”.

2007. The festival introduces night screenings for the first time (“Very positive animation program”).

2007. 86-year-old Richard Leacock, an outstanding director of documentary film visits the festival. Mr. Leacock was the guest of the first “Message to Man” Festival.

2009. Upon the decision of the city property committee IDF&TC “Centaur” obtains a five-year lease of an office on Griboedov canal, 27.

2010. The XX “Message to Man” Festival. Due to lack of financing and organizational problems the festival experiences hard times. Only the Retrospective of Natalia Makarova’s film and her visit to the festival reminds about former achievements of the festival. The festival requires reload. The director of fiction and documentary films in the second generation, Alexey Uchitel agrees to head the festival. However, the breakthrough is still not achieved.

2011. A new born St. Petersburg Cinema Festival Kinoforum causes “Message to Man” Festival to be transferred till September.

2011. The new Experimental Film and Video Competition In Silico (pseudo-Latin name which can be translated as computer modelling) is introduced.

2011. Alexey Uchitel is officially nominated the President of the Festival, Mikhail Litvyakov becomes the Honorary President. Channel One becomes general information sponsor of “Message to Man”.


It is extremely difficult to count the number of films screened during the “Message to Man” history moreover to count the amount of viewers, especially if we take into account a large number of free screens.

However, we are extremely proud to name those of them, who were guests, participants and members of the Jury:

Erwin Leiser, Tonino Guerra, Merab Mamardashvili, Juris Podnieks, Vladimir Motyl, Savva Kulish, Fyodor Khitruk, Kira Muratova, Alexander Sokurov, Victor Kossakovsky, Garri Bardin ,Volker Schlöndorff, Agnès Varda, Yuri Klepikov, Vladislav Vinogradov, Godfrey Reggio, Emir Kusturica, Bill Plympton, Zbigniew Rybczyński, Ulrich Gregor, Vadim Abdrashitov, Leo Hurwicz, Alexander Rodnyansky, Sergey Miroshnichenko, Sergey Ovcharov, Gerrit van Dijk, Aleksander Rogozhkin, Konstantin Bronzit, Sergey Dvortsevoy, Pavel Kostomarov, Sergei Loznitsa and many others.

At different times, the festival received a strong support from a number of high-ranking Government officials: Anatoliy Sobchak, Vladimir Putin, Valentina Matvienko, Alexey Kudrin and others. Nevertheless, the festival had to overcome a lot of difficulties.

Current situation
2012. The Non-Commercial Partnership of Promotion Cinema and Theatre “Message to Man” has been instituted which from now on conducts the Festival. A new team stands at the helm of the festival. They are eager to revive the former glory of “Message to Man” Festival.