LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. For the past few years, in July the Russia provincial town of Vologda has hosted a European Film Festival. Vologda is a sleepy city far from the Russian metropolises of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and every year the arrival of European filmmakers and actors to the Russian heartland is a very special event.
This year, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley attended the festival.
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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The deep northern Russian town of Vologda is best known for its traditional wooden houses and majestic onion-domed churches. But lately, it's been gaining a reputation as a hub of European cinema.
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BEARDSLEY: During one week in July, the year's best European films play in the city's cinema houses and in the open air. Hundreds of cinephiles watch an outdoor projection on a screen by the city's 17th century walls.
The movie gets underway at dusk, which at this latitude is around midnight. Pavel Morozov is one of the founders of the Vologda European Film Festival.
PAVEL MOROZOV: We founded this festival with my partner four years ago in 2010 because we would like to wake up the city of Vologda.
BEARDSLEY: Morozov says a few years ago a French journalist aptly named the town Sleeping Beauty.
MOROZOV: And actually Sleeping Beauty is all about Vologda and our point it to bring the cinema as a charming prince to wake up this Sleeping Beauty.
BEARDSLEY: Morozov says the festival has invigorated Vologda which now has a new aura. But for this first-time visitor, Vologda has the charm of a place left behind by the modern world. Saturday must be wedding day. Several happy couples and their rowdy guests pose for photographers.
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BEARDSLEY: And though Russia's birth rate is falling, you wouldn't know it here in Vologda. Young couples proudly push old fashioned-looking prams carrying their firstborn; children play, and little girls still tie their braids with big Soviet-era bows.
Eighty-year old Tatiana sits on a wall underneath the bell tower as starlings swoop above her. She sells handmade lace gloves and hats, one of Vologda's traditional specialties. Tatiana says she doesn't have time to go to the movies because she has to tend the vegetable garden at her dacha. The festival is good but life was better in the old days when she got a paid vacation, she says.
I'm not the only one struck by the simplicity of life here in the Russian heartland. Polish filmmaker Maria Sadowska, who has a movie in the competition, says Vologda is exotic even for her.
MARIA SADOWSKA: For me it all looks like a dream from my childhood. Like, it all looks like an elementary book they teach us because, you know, I am the last generation who really remembers the old times. I was 13 when the Wall fall down, so.
NIKITA GOLKOV ALEXANDROVIC: Actually, my whole name is Nikita Golkov Alexandrovic.
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BEARDSLEY: Nikita's a university student and a festival volunteer. He takes me to the top of the city's castle tower. It offers stunning views of a countryside speckled with domed churches. The Vologda River meanders slowly through it. Nikita says Russia has always followed its own development path.
ALEXANDROVIC: We're not so developed as the people in Europe. We were closed from the world. I'm in the USSR and now we are just - I think we are moving to Europe. Do you understand me?
BEARDSLEY: Yes. The festival concludes with the touching ceremony at the city's main theater. Just like at Cannes, there's a red carpet on the steps. But as the European guest walk up them, they're announced by the emcees and cheered by the crowds. Vologda native Natalia Salagoup says she's never been to Cannes before but this is surely better.
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BEARDSLEY: I see all the films every year, she says, which is a magic time in Vologda. French actor and jury member Eriq Ebouaney is signing autographs. It's his first time in Vologda and he agrees with Natalia.
ERIQ EBOUANEY: This is probably better than Cannes because people are true and they are all beautiful souls and full of passion and great energy.
BEARDSLEY: We need that energy for our cinemas, says Ebouaney, and for our lives. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.