The Lenfilm studio on the Petrograd Side was a centre of the Soviet film industry, producing many much-loved Russian comedies and dramas - most famously, Sergei Eisenstein's October (1928). Lenfilm has continued in the postcommunist era to work with some success as a commercial film studio. However, the removal of Soviet-era state funding for film-making has inevitably led to torpor in the local industry.

There are, of course, exceptions. Ever since the Russian Ark (2002), St Petersburg native Alexander Sokurov has been recognised as one of Russia's most talented contemporary directors. The world's first unedited feature film, the Russian Ark was shot in one unbroken 90-minute frame. Sokurov's films have tackled a wide range of subjects and he is in the midst of a tetralogy of films about world leaders, including Hitler (Molokh), Lenin (Taurus) and Japanese Emperor Hirohito (The Sun). Sokurov's most recent triumph was Alexandra, the moving tale of an elderly woman who visits her grandson at an army base in Grozny. The title role is played by Galina Vishnevskaya, opera doyenne and wife of composer/conductor Mstislav Rostropovich.

A rising star in St Petersburg's film industry is Alexey German, who gained attention with his 1998 film Khrustalyov! My Car! Based on a story by Joseph Brodsky (see p43), the film tells the tale of a well-loved military doctor who was arrested during Stalin's 'Doctor's Plot'. In more recent years, this prolific director has put out Garpastum, set in prerevolutionary Petrograd, and Hard to be a God, an adaptation of the popular science-fiction book.

Other Lenfilm successes include Alexey Balabanov's Of Freaks and Men, the joint project of Boris Frumin and Yury Lebedev Undercover, and Andrei Kravchuk's The Italian, all of which enjoyed some critical acclaim in the West.

St Petersburg hosts the Festival of Festivals (pi 8), an annual noncompetitive film event in June. Partly sponsored by Lenfilm, the festival is no doubt an attempt to draw film-makers to this fair city, as well as to draw attention to its films. A smaller but more innovative event is Message to Man (p18), a festival featuring documentary, short and animated film. For a list of local cinemas, see pi 92.

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