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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Oscar nominations for a Russian and Kazakh film have put the ex-Soviet countries' film industry back on the map, directors and actors said.
Nikita Mikhalkov's "12," Russia's sixth Oscar nomination, and Sergei Bodrov's "Mongol," Kazakhstan's first, will compete against films from Israel, Austria and Poland for best foreign language film at the Academy Awards, being held on February 24.
"I think that for this year's Oscars, many people are seeing the need to honor European art and in particular, Slav cinema," Mikhalkov told reporters at the Golden Eagle Russian film awards late on Friday.
"I hope that people will grow up following and enjoying Russian cinema," said Mikhalkov, who won an Oscar for his 1994 film "Burnt by the sun."
Film stars, veteran directors and politicians gathered for the awards in the pavilions of the Mosfilm studios, where Oscar-winning film "Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears" was created as well as most widely acclaimed Soviet films.
Mikhalkov planted a kiss on the cheek of Svetlana Medvedeva, a socialite, supporter of arts and wife of Dmitri Medvedev, set to become the next Russian president at a March 2 election.
The awards opened with an e-mailed message of congratulations from President Vladimir Putin, read by Russia's minister of culture to a packed hall of a thousand people.
History and war were major themes in the two ex-Soviet Oscar nominations. "12" is a remake of a U.S. film but moves the action to Russia, where 12 jurors decide the fate of a young Chechen accused of murdering his adoptive Russian father.
"Mongol," filmed in China and Kazakhstan, is an epic following the life of Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan, a nomad warrior with whom Kazakhs, who have descended from nomadic tribes, feel connected.
"We expected an Oscar nomination and are proud of what we have done for Kazakhstan," Russian director Sergei Bodrov told Reuters in the grey-marbled entrance to Mosfilm, before going on to win two Golden Eagle prizes for his film.
"I received thousands of e-mails from Kazakh people saying I showed hope for the Kazakh film industry and for the country as a whole," said Bodrov.
The Russian film industry is experiencing a surge of activity as Russia undergoes its longest economic boom in more than a generation, fuelled by record high oil prices.
"Russian film is developing first and foremost because it's profitable," said Russian actor Sergei Bezrukov, who recently starred in the remake of Soviet favorite "Ironiya Sudby" or "The Irony of Fate."
"Like in Soviet times, we still have good directors and actors, but now you can also make a lot of money," he added.
"Ironiya Sudby," which tracks two individuals whose lives intermingle and end up in love, shocked Russia over the New Year by taking in $50 million at the box office in its opening month.
"The Oscar shows that Russian film is just as good as the others," said Sergei Makovetsky, one of the actors from "12."
But it is just the beginning. The halls of the Golden Eagle awards, which had exposed rusty pipes and bare walls with crumbling paint, were a far cry from the red carpets and lavish banquets at the Oscars.
Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; editing by Elizabeth Piper