Sochi film festival with Luba Balagova: the 200th episode of The Next 100 Days Podcast!
Creator of sochi film festival, Luba Balagova, talks to us about starting a film festival in our 200th episode of The Next 100 Days Podcast. Luba has had the heart to create a film festival that celebrates two countries, which have not always been the best of friends. Called the Sochi Film Festival and Awards, Luba hopes she can open a space in which Britain and Russia can appreciate each other again.
Creating Sochi film festival
Balagova was born in Russia and became a British citizen about 20 years ago. She recognised that Britain and Russia are two great nations which are filled with great film-makers, great artists and great creatives. However, the politics has got in the way. Therefore, connecting the two nations through cinema creates a space for a relationship without hostility.
Ultimately, Luba believes cinema can connect people; it makes people’s souls speak. Dostoevsky said “beauty will save the world” and this is something Luba is driven by . As a result, she wants to do her part in saving the world from disconnection, through the Sochi film festival.
A space for acceptance, welcome and respect
Luba sees both Britain and Russia as beautiful and creative countries which would benefit from being united. Indeed, she is so proud of being part of something that brings together great film makers.
For example, she has had Stephan Frears join the awards ceremony for the Sochi film festival. So, this really is an acclaimed festival. Filmmakers are so influential and they inspire current film lovers, as well as Luba herself.
It really is amazing what Luba has done, since she has created something very big and very successful, from scratch. She has essentially built from the ground up! But, how did she manage to do that? How has she managed to run something so prestigious, which started from absolutely nothing?
Starting from the ground-up…
Luba’s background is literature, and she has published books internationally. She has also produced a few films, but never thought of creating a festival because it’s a very difficult project. Nevertheless, when tension started to grow between Russia and Britain, she knew she had to use her voice. She calls this her ‘spiritual voice’, however this is not to do with religion. What she means by this is her position in culture – a voice that comes from her soul-feeling.
As a result, she decided she was going to start an Anglo-Russian film festival. Okay, where to start? Well, her husband is a Hollywood veteran (Mohy Quandor) and is one of the producers of the American tv series, Bonanza. Both of them visit Cannes Film Festival every year and Mohy was a great influence in Luba’s deepening love for cinema.
So, when she brought up her idea with Mohy, he said it would be difficult but supported Luba because he understood and agrees with her concept. From there, she expressed her desire to the mayor of Sochi that she wanted this film festival to be at home in Sochi. Why? Because Sochi reminds Luba of Cannes.
In 2015, Luba held her first press conference for the Sochi Film Festival, at Cannes Film Festival, which helped draw international press and support from both Russians and other international audiences. Then, it was just a matter of earning the agreement of the may of Sochi, who agreed immediately.
The important thing here is that Luba formed an anchor in Sochi through her friendly and positive strategy, so that there was someone who appreciated film and her motivation as much as she did.
In terms of steps towards making this film festival a success, she was introduced in a very friendly way, she met the mayor in a stimulating way, and at that moment she had her first festival in 2016 and it has occurred ever since…
This year’s festival
Now, when you’re listening to the podcast, this year’s festival will have already been and gone. As Luba prepares for next week’s festival, she is also planning for the Sochi film festival 2020. In March, there will be a great ceremony awards in London and a week of cinema where there is a real connection between the British and the Russians.
This festival is something that Luba really gains a lot of pleasure from; it is something she wants to do for the rest of her life because it is important to bring countries together.
The more she works on this festival, the more she discovers how great both Russia and Britain are. It isn’t her who creates the film festival’s atmosphere, but it is the filmmakers which create the bridge.
Over the last 9 or 10 podcasts, we’ve been thinking about purpose and how, in any sort of business, to be happy you must work out what your purpose is first. Hearing Luba say “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life” is fantastic; she is a demonstration of how, if you have a passion, just go for it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. She says 2016 was the first festival, and then she did it professionalisms;;y in 2017. Well, good enough is good enough! Learning on the job means you can do what you love whilst trying to make it more professional and smooth-running.
Film festivals are such important platforms for young filmmakers, and other filmmakers who cannot get their films to big festivals, such as Cannes and the Oscars. When you have the support of Roland Joffe, why wouldn’t you submit your films there?
This year, SIFFA is supported by a Russian guild of critiques and so the film festival is growing – exciting! In terms of business and branding, if you can hitch your brand to a famous celebrity, then you have a greater chance of success. Roland Joffe is a great person to have support the Sochi international film festival, as he has directed films such as The Forgive, The Killing Fields – he is A-league.
Having such a star support and be committed to the festival leant it credibility and prestige, which will help grow the festival and SIFFA as a pseudo-brand.
What Luba has in her heart is a passion to create this festival and make it work. That’s why she has reached out to her friends and her family – even those who she did not know, such as Stephan Frears. To have him come to the festival and say how great Sochi is and how important SIFFA is is a great exchange between nations and opens the doors for an open relationship where politics does not get in the way.
Running film festivals ain’t cheap!
How does Luba manage to fund SIFFA?
Luba says Sochi film festival is supported no matter what; it is supported by prestigious hotels in Sochi, which was built for the Olympic Games in 2014. Many cinema halls in Sochi partner with the film festival also – it is through this support that the festival can grow, as well as partnership-support growth.
It is Luba’s sincere belief that this unique Anglo-Russian film festival is where creative souls can unite and make something incredible. Both British and Russian films are shown in Sochi, evenly spread throughout the festival. Luba also makes sure there is an even spread of films, short films and documentaries submitted for awards. This year, more than 50 films will be screened and new filmmakers doing degrees will be introduced.
What Luba envisions for SIFFA is that the films screened at the festival will also be screened all over Russia. In 2021, SIFFA’s films will be screened in Cheltenham, and will be screened at Ramsgate film festival soon. Luba is concerned with continuous development of Sochi film festival – she constantly seeks new, exciting opportunities for growth and to bring the message she had at the beginning:
Let’s build bridges by speaking the language of cinema and art; allow a cultural exchange of creativity between Britain and Russia. Make love, not war.
If you want to know more about Luba Balagova, follow this link. Keep an eye on it as it will be updated soon after the festival!