The opening ceremony of the St. Petersburg International Media Forum, or SPIMF, organized by Roskino with support from the Government of St. Petersburg and the personal patronage of governor Georgy Poltavchenko, took place at the Old St. Petersburg Stock Exchange on the Strelka of Vasilyevsky Island. Opera director Vasily Barkhatov served as the ceremony's production designer. Guests and participants of SPIMF were treated to a screening of Mommy, directed by Xavier Dolan.
Aiming for a precise reflection of the upcoming Forum's true essence, the production designer created a giant black top hat, like the ones magicians pull colored scarves and rabbits out of, which took up the entire stage. Probably, metaphorically speaking, the concept was that films, TV series, and new media productions would be spilling out of this top hat, cornucopia-style, onto the audience. Mr. Barkhatov, commenting on his participation in SPIMF, told the audience "It may seem that I take on any job that comes my way, but it's not like that at all - here, I wanted to take part in an historic occasion."
The wide range of visual content makes this cross-platform event virtually unprecedented - at the opening ceremony, much was said about how St. Petersburg had never hosted this kind of festival, although, as the president of the St. Petersburg cultural committee Vasily Pankratov noted, "the subject of film has always been vital to the city of St. Petersburg." He mentioned with pleasure that the Old Stock Exchange would once again become a cultural space, and would no longer be a 'hole in the center of the city' - something it had turned into after the Naval museum vacated the premises two years ago. "Thanks to Katya, our beloved Old Stock Exchange has come back to life." said Mr. Pankratov, referring to Ekaterina Mtsitouridze, the Media Forum's general producer. She in turn introduced several of her friends and associates, who then thanked her for creating this new festival, especially Alexander Sokurov, who expressed the hope that the event would become a tradition.
The welcoming speech was given by another member of the Media Forum's board of trustees, Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage Museum, which the Old Stock Exchange is a part of. "Welcome to the Hermitage," said Mr. Piotrovsky, noting that "at the Hermitage, never before have we been involved in the selection and screening of films." Another member of the board of trustees, Jérôme Paillard, executive director of the Cannes film market Marché du Film, offered words of praise and expressed his admiration for the unique idea of showing films within the physical space of the Hermitage; he also lamented that nothing like this could have been achieved in Cannes. And Liubov Sovershayeva, the deputy plenipotentiary of the Russian president to the Northwestern Federal District and member of the board of trustees, encouraged the guests and participants of the Forum to engage in "lively meetings and heated discussions."
After thanking several more of her supporters, Ekaterina Mtsitouridze singled out the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "without which there would be chaos in Russia, and many guests would not have made it to the Forum ." She also appealed directly to film industry decision-makers, telling them "not to establish quotas for American films or any other kind of film or art, but instead to subsidize Russian film. I ask you all to be open and to love and cherish our own work, but not to the detriment of the work of others," she added.
The ceremony closed with a screening of Mommy, by Xavier Dolan, which won the jury prize at the 67th Cannes Film Festival and was selected as Canada's entry for the next Academy Awards. Xavier Dolan himself decided not to attend the festival, protesting a number of laws passed in St. Petersburg that he feels are wrong; the audience showed their support by applauding the director's uncompromising stand.