The Cinema Market: What About Russia?

Alexander Fedorov

Only ten years ago Russian audiences generally watched Russian movies. Now the repertoire of Russia's theatres consists almost completely of American pictures; films of the so-called "auteur cinema" can be seen only in Moscow's film museum or at festivals. And attendance at Russian theatres has dropped seriously: tickets are expensive, and viewers' interest has switched to central television -- ORT (The Society Television) or RTR (Russian Teleradio-Broadcaster), both public broadcasters1 -- with their Santa Barbara teleplays and so on. (The management of the little private television channels is so unsystematic and chaotic that good films and programs are lost in the stream of B-productions.)

There are almost no Russian films on Russia's theatres' screens (with the exception of those in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Samara, and Voronezh); they can be found on television only, and then only one or two years after their initial release. Consequently, when Russian magazines write about new indigenous films, unseen by a great majority of its citizens, it naturally increases the isolation of critics from readers and sharply decreases the cinema press's readership. The magazine Ecran ("Screen"), for example, has reduced its print run from a million copies an issue during the 1980s to 50,000 copies this year, and the magazine Iskusstvo Kino ("Cinema Art") has reduced its print run from 50,000 copies during the 1980s to 2,000-3,000 in the 1990s.

The laws of film marketing dictate theatres' repertoire, and it is easier to buy two or three American films than a Russian one. The old American films (maybe B-class) are relatively cheap to acquire compared with new Russian films. (Of course the new American films [A-Class] -- like Titanic -- are very expensive on the Russian market.) Seats in the theatres are only 2% to 7% filled in the best cases (with the exception of the Moscow Dolby stereo cinemas, "Kodak-Cinema-world," "Cinema-Centre," "House of Cinema," "Pushkinsky," and "American Cinema-House"). Adult audiences are choosing to stay home to watch television, while the youth on the whole prefer video.

The time of the bans, when every amusing foreign film seemed to Russians a tasty yet inaccessible serving of semi-underground, "closed" screenings, has passed. Also elapsed is the "golden" era -- the 1960s through the 1980s -- when Russian spectators assaulted Moscow's International Festival theatres to see the films of Fellini, Coppola, or Forman. Now one does not need to stand in a queue at any box office -- even for films by Lucas and Spielberg. Videopirates are prospering in Russia. And the prestige of cinema clubs is falling, no matter how many special programs Russian television schedules about the famous work of the cinema art masters.

In a word, the 1990s have become the hardest years in the history of Russian cinema. The freedom for creative work which directors and actors have gained has become for them a possibility to make films almost never seen by the Russian public. Now a Russian director can construct a remarkable movie, shown with success at several European festivals and highly valued by the press, that will not be exhibited in Russian theatres with the exception of the capital. It is therefore logical that prominent directors from Russia prefer to work in the West today: Andrei Konchalovsky has made his films in the U.S. for a very long time; her brother Nikita Mikhalkov financed his latest production with Italian and French money. With the help of Frenchmen, Alexei German, Vitaly Kanevsky, and Pavel Lungin filmed their recent movies. They hope that in this way their creations will at least be seen abroad. In Russia, Russian cinema has become a delicacy for the educated elite who can visit festivals and join clubs and television channels.

Since August 1998, the Russian economic situation has become even worse, and the Russian cinema market has worsened also. In order to alleviate the Russian cinema situation, the Russian economic one must be alleviated as well. Of course, the Moscow situation is very different from the all-Russian situation. The wealthy Moscow audiences can afford to buy cinema tickets for $10 or $15 (Moscow Dolby theatres), but it is impossible for people in the Russian provinces.

Notes

1
RTR (Russian Teleradio-Broadcaster) is a pure public broadcaster (100% state-owned). ORT (The Society Television) is a "mixed property" which has both state and private ownership.


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