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Kremlins Film Funding Under Fire

With the state donating billions of rubles to the film industry in recent years, many are now questioning its motives.

Published: June 18, 2014 (Issue # 1816)



  • Director Andrei Zvyagintsev after winning for best screenplay for Leviathan in Cannes last month.
    Photo: Thibault Camus / AP

  • Films such as Stalingrad suit the Kremlins conservative ideology.
    Photo: WDSPPR

When Andrei Zvyagintsevs Leviathan, asocial satire ofRussia based onthe stories ofthe biblical Job andU.S. vigilante Marvin Heemeyer, premiered atthe Cannes Film Festival last month, it scored aBest Screenplay award andsold tomore than 50 countries.

It did not sell toRussia.

TheRussian film market is theeighth biggest inthe world, but domestic production struggles fora market share against Hollywood, which spends as much money ona single blockbuster as theentire Russian film industry does ona years worth ofreleases.

Thegovernment has stepped up inrecent years toplug therevenue gap with lavish subsidies.

But while theplan is tocreate aself-sufficient film industry, theworst-case scenario is therise ofpropagandist cinema funded forideological correctness, not artistic quality or commercial prospects, experts warned.

The danger is present though filmmakers remain free fornow, said Nina Romodanovskaya, thehead ofmovie industry portal ProfiCinema.ru.

They may not have long left. Ina telling example, Leviathan, which hoped tosecure domestic distribution atthe 25th Kinotavr Film Festival, which ran inSochi fromJune 1 to8, already risked aban inRussia beyond thefestival circuit.

Theproblem was that thefilm contains expletives, which are now prohibited under arecent law endorsed bythe Culture Ministry, whose head Vladimir Medinsky is known forhis ultrapatriotic andultraconservative stance.

Medinsky stressed inMay that he would not cut any slack toZvyagintsev, who will have toedit his satirical production or not see it released athome.

He also confessed todisliking Leviathan, while admitting it was atalented movie. Russians do not drink that much, theminister was cited as saying.

Not Welcome atHome

TheSoviet Union, despite ideological censorship, had athriving film industry with anannual audience ofsome 220 million viewers inthe 1980s, according tocinema news website Film.ru, andbagged several Academy Award andCannes wins no mean feat frombehind theIron Curtain.

That only makes all themore astonishing theindustrys annihilation after theSoviet Unions collapse, as movie theaters fell intodisrepair andpeople opted forpirated videocassettes. In1997, annual ticket sales stood at0.25 per capita, according tomarketing company Nevafilm Research. Inother words, only one infour Russians went tothe movies atleast once that year.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Jan. 30 through Wednesday, Feb. 4



A retrospective of the films of Roman Polanski starts today at Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt, with a screening of Repulsion at 7 p.m. and Rosemarys Baby at 9:15 p.m. The series runs through Feb. 4 and will include Polanski's eminently creepy The Tenant, the cult comedy The Fearless Vampire Killers and Cul-de-sac among others. Tickets are 150-200 rubles and the complete schedule is available at www.vk.com/artpokaz/



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