Russian Ministry of Culture reviews “anti-profanity” law for films

Russian Ministry of Culture reviews "anti-profanity" law for films
Still from Leviathan (2014) dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev

23 September 2014
Text Nadia Beard

In a surprising display of capitulation to public outcry, Russia’s Ministry of Culture is now considering changes to the controversial law banning the use of profanity in the arts, Itar-Tass reported yesterday. Proposed amendments would exempt domestic films from having to obtain distribution certificates before being screened at national film festivals, a requirement brought in alongside the “anti-profanity” law this year.

Implemented on 1 July, the law has made expletives in films, books, music, theatre and popular blogs a criminal offence, with law-breakers facing fines of between 2,500 roubles ($70) and 50,000 roubles ($1,400). The law also introduced new rules for film distribution licences, with movies at risk of being refused a licence if they contain swearwords. The Voices Film Festival held in Vologda in July was the first Russian film festival to be affected by the law, with Yes & Yes, the winner of this year’s Moscow Film Festival by Valeria Gai Germanika, dropped from the line-up due to its use of expletives.

An initial announcement to review the law was made by member of the State Duma’s cultural committee, Yelena Drapeko, in July just two weeks after the law came into effect. Having come under fire from a number of prominent figures from Russia’s cultural sphere, including filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov, director and playwright Mark Zakharov, and presidential cultural advisor Vladimir Tolstoy, the law has widely been criticised as an attempt to limit creative freedom.

Earlier this year, there were concerns that Leviathan, the latest film from Russian film director Andrey Zvyagintsev, would not receive a release in Russia because it contains swearwords. In protest against the law, Zvyagintsev said at this year’s Cannes Film Festival: “We considered every word, and all the words are relevant [for the film] as they help to recreate authentic conversational language. Castrated language and bans are bad for the arts.” Leviathan has since been awarded an 18+ certificate and has received Russian release.

Plans remain in place to keep the law applicable to other art forms. Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying: “I am on the side of there not being swearing in theatre. Theatre is like a live chat with artists and it’s terrible when there’s swearing in conversation on stage. Going to a theatre is going to a kind of temple of art, and sometimes you hear such sounds and such language there which you wouldn’t even hear in a construction site when something heavy falls on someone’s foot.”

See also:

Profanity, purity and politics — the battle for the Russian language

Russian website to list artworks hit by new swearing ban

Russian culture committee to review anti-profanity law