In this file photo Russian director Sergey Dvortsevoy poses during a photocall for the film "Ayka (My Little One)" at the 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France.-AFP

"Ayka", a gritty low-budget drama about a Central Asian woman living in Moscow, caused a sensation when its star won the best actress prize at Cannes in 2018. But Russia's film funding body has ordered the director to pay the equivalent of 100,000 euros ($111,000) for releasing it four years behind schedule, a delay he blames on a lack of natural snow for winter scenes.

Sergey Dvortsevoy's film portrays a Kyrgyz single mother, played by Kazakh actress Samal Yeslyamova, struggling for survival in wintry Moscow. Her victory at the Cannes international film festival in June 2018 was a triumph for Kazakhstan, where both Yeslyamova and Dvortsevoy come from.

Russia's state Cinema Fund-whose funding is often make-or-break for productions-gave money towards the film but is angry about its late release, said Dvortsevoy, who was also the film's producer. "The Russian state demands that I pay the equivalent of 100,000 euros for the four-year delay in the film's production," he told AFP on Monday. "I'm in shock, this is auteur cinema and our takings can't cover such a huge fine."

He blamed Moscow's lack of snow cover over two winters for production delays, saying his "quasi-documentary style does not allow the use of fake snow". He also pointed to the film's narrative style, saying "80 percent of the screenplay was written on the day with the main actress and that's often unpredictable.

"But this is an auteur film, that's treated as a different case for all kinds of penalties," said the filmmaker, who was acting as a producer for the first time. Ayka received 28 million rubles ($454,601) from the Cinema Fund, just over a quarter of its budget.

It had only a small cinema release in Russia, with just over 8,000 people seeing it and ticket sales of around $39,000, according to official statistics. However, the director is being fined only for the delay and does not have to pay back the rest. After its Cannes success, "Ayka" was shortlisted for an Oscar nomination in the best foreign language film category, representing Kazakhstan.

The film is based on the tragic statistic that migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan left behind 248 babies in Moscow maternity wards in 2010. The director said he is developing a new feature film project set in the far north of the USSR in summer. "I'm already afraid of falling into the same trap," he said, since "the summer is very short in northern Russia." - AFP