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MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Moscow Film Festival opened Thursday to a star-studded ceremony and an international jury headed by the acclaimed director Luc Besson, as the country struggles to put its industry on the world map.
Begun in 1935 under Soviet leader Josef Stalin, the festival is the second oldest in the world after that of Venice. It will award its prize to one of 17 productions, including ones from Hungary, Russia and France.
The Russian film industry has seen a dramatic revival in recent years, enabled by state largesse and private investment fueled by a decade of energy-export driven growth prior to the 2008 recession.
There has been an explosion in new cinemas opening in Russia in recent years, reversing a long decline in the 1990s.
Festival president Nikita Mikhalkov, an Oscar-winning director and Kremlin favorite said the Russian industry was looking to consolidate rapid growth and build a mature and sustainable industry that could compete with the West.
"Hopefully we shall see an effective film market emerge, which will happen as soon as we have enough good theatres and good distribution," Mikhalkov said.
His $55 million budget sequel to the Oscar-winning film Burned by the Sun, currently being shown across the country, failed to impress critics when it opened last month and did not receive any awards at the Cannes film festival.
Russian cinema critics said this was a sign that the quality of Russian film-making was not keeping pace with growing budgets.
The Russian government has used its investment in Russian cinema as a means of instilling patriotism in a population whose self esteem was badly hit by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the flood of Western cultural imports that followed.
The far-right Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who attended the opening, told Reuters he was thrilled at the growing clout of the country's cinema.
"Everything is modern here and there are almost no American films here because English and American film production appears to be dying. Hopefully that is why our films will take first place," he said.
Writing by Ben Judah; Editing by Paul Casciato