WASHINGTON — At the 15th International Film Festival now under way in Moscow, what appears on the movie screens isn't the festival's only attraction.
"I'm going principally because I want to meet the new Soviet leadership face to face," said Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Assn. of America who is heading the official U. S. delegation to the festival this week.
Valenti said he will be looking to see what impact glasnost --the Soviet policy of openness--may be having on what he has termed a "languid" relationship between the two film communities.
"I have no idea what can be done," Valenti said in an interview before leaving for the Moscow festival, which ends Friday. But there is no question in Valenti's mind of what he wants: "I am looking for reciprocity of opportunity," he said.
For years, relations in this area between the two countries have been cool. The Soviets have expressed an interest in strengthening their film marketing arm and have requested permission to open film sales offices in New York and Los Angeles. The State Department has not approved the request at the urging of the U. S. film industry, which wants the Soviets to agree to spend $2 million a year on U. S. films.
What will happen in the long run remains to be seen, but there is some indication that current relations may be warming, as evidenced by the week-long "Entertainment Summit" in Los Angeles attended by a delegation of Soviet film makers last March and the creation last month of a new American-Soviet Film Initiative aimed at improving cooperation and promoting exchanges between American and Soviet film and television producers.
Valenti's trip this week follows a visit to the Soviet Union last month by U. S. Information Agency Director Charles Z. Wick, who said in a recent interview that he sensed an eagerness on the part of Soviet officials to explore new ways to improve relations in the film area.
Wick said Aleksandr Kamshalov, chairman of Goskino, the Soviet entity that handles its film industry, was "amazingly candid" and willing to discuss a wide range of issues that could involve various exchanges between the two countries.
"Our job is to be a catalyst for the private sector," Wick said of the agency's role.
Among the possibilities they discussed, Wick cited U. S.-Soviet co-production of films, stronger contacts between U. S. and Soviet directors, reciprocal exchanges and scholarship programs, as well as ways to encourage world-class film makers to work in the Soviet Union. (In Moscow on Monday, director Stanley Kramer announced plans to make a film in the Soviet Union about the Chernobyl nuclear power-plant disaster.)
"I also suggested that I thought our movie industry would be happy to talk about helping them with their younger generation of film makers by exchanging young film makers and directors and strengthening ties between schools with courses in film making," Wick said.
Wick said he suggested exchanges with universities such as USC, which has a film school. In return, Soviet universities might host USC students in fields of interest to them.
According to Wick, there are 39 movie studios in the Soviet film industry, which produces 150 feature films, 120 television films and 1,500 documentaries a year.
The USIA director said Kamshalov told him that of 300 films shown annually in the Soviet Union, only 40 to 45 films are from the United States. "He told me very frankly that they only have $2.5 million for their whole budget to buy all foreign films," Wick said.
At one point in their discussions, Kamshalov suggested reciprocal exchanges of films with the Soviets and Americans each picking 10 to 15 major films for one- or two-week showings in key theaters on a non-commercial basis.
"I told him I didn't think our movie industry would go for it," Wick said. "They don't have to audition their films."
As an alternative, Wick proposed simultaneous festivals in two or three cities in each country. He said he cautioned Kamshalov that the idea would work "only if American producers could be convinced that the Soviets were not getting free showings when the movies could be shown for profit elsewhere."
In a separate interview before his trip, Valenti suggested that the time has come for the Soviets to get involved in the international marketplace on a professional basis.
Valenti also said there could be a market for Soviet films on U. S. television as well as on cable TV and videocassettes "if the movie is right and it is publicized."
"I think there are some very talented film makers in Russia," he added. "I'm not suggesting that we need to teach them how to make movies . . . it's a question of being able to make movies for the international marketplace."