MOSCOW -- Stars and searchlights added a touch of Hollywood to Friday's opening of the first-ever American film festival here, but a clutter of ticket-seekers and security men lent the event a distinctive Soviet air.
Actor Richard Gere, puppeteer Jim Henson, actress Daryl Hannah and a cast of other Hollywood figures were among the glitter attracting mobs of Muscovites to the floodlighted Rossiya Theater. Gere told the audience gathered for the opening and screening of the film "Roxanne" that the festival provided "an incredible opportunity to change the way we have thought of each other."
More than 30 major American films are to be shown in seven Moscow and Leningrad theaters through March 2, ranging from the 1939 classic fantasy "The Wizard of Oz" to last year's sensitive portrayal of a deaf woman learning survival in "Children of a Lesser God."
"I love all American films. They're great," said 37-year-old Ina Pozdnyakova as she stood outside the theater pleading with each passer-by for the chance to buy a spare ticket. She didn't even know what film was to be shown. Asked whether the ticket distribution system is fair, she snapped back: "Absolutely not."
The festival was announced in this week's edition of Leisure Time in Moscow, but the times and theaters where specific films are to be shown have not been made public. Guides listing the films, participating theaters, guests and workshops were released only hours before the opening and only for organizers and foreign visitors.
Other films to be shown during the festival include "A Chorus Line," "An Officer and a Gentleman," "Singin' in the Rain" and "King's Row," a 1942 film regarded as Ronald Reagan's best.
Nearly every Western cultural offering in Moscow draws overflow crowds, though the festivals and concerts are given little, if any, publicity in the state-run press. The well-developed gossip grapevine and an entrenched system of favor-trading ensure that connections far outweigh currency in securing entrance to a popular event.
Festival spokesman Peter Fleischer said the Soviets had agreed to fair distribution of tickets for the films, selected by the private American groups and entertainers who organized the festival. He said he was led to believe that about 50 percent of the tickets went to the general public, but said the Americans had no control over ticket sales.
"Of course we can't satisfy all those who want tickets," said Alexander I. Kamshalov, head of the Soviet State Committee on Cinematography, serving as host for the festival.
In the minus 5-degree chill outside the Rossiya, Alyona Narishkina shivered and stamped her feet. "Sure you can get tickets through your work enterprise, if they happen to get any and you manage to find out in time," said Narishkina, a lawyer who waited for more than an hour Friday night for tickets to "Roxanne."
Circling among the ticket-seekers were a handful of young men who had bought up some of the $2.60 tickets from those with extras. They conducted a brisk business reselling them for about three times the price, but moved about warily, avoiding the gaze of plainclothes policemen always stationed where crowds assemble.
A sign outside the Rossiya gave no indication when tickets for other films would be on sale, but assured would-be buyers that 45 percent of the seats are sold in public kiosks. Half are distributed to unspecified enterprises and 5 percent are reserved for decorated heroes, war veterans and invalids, the sign explained.
Those with tickets for the opening night film were more supportive of the current system.
"You can always find out what is playing if you want to," explained Slava Belyankin, an 18-year-old student. "You just have to be patient."