Last week, directors, actors and film professionals from around Russia gathered in the Siberian city of Omsk for Movement, a festival dedicated to debut filmmakers. As the government pumps money into film production — in exchange for increased control — what are the prospects for the industry in Russia? To get a sense of the current state of Russian cinema — and to gauge its chances for the future — The Calvert Journal asked five young professionals for their take on Russian cinema today.
Award-winning journalist Vladimir Lyashchenko writes about cinema for news website gazeta.ru
“When people say that Russia used to have a great art house tradition and now we don’t, they’re not really being objective”
When people say that Russia used to have a great art house tradition and now it doesn’t, they’re not really being objective. If you look at the main competitions of major international film festivals in Europe, like Rotterdam, Venice and Cannes you’ll see that Russian films are still there — probably more so than in the Eighties and Nineties. There must be a reason why we have three or four independent films in the main competitions every year.
The problem with state funding in Russia is that the rules keep changing. I don’t have anything against the state funding culture, but it’s a question of who is giving this money and there’s the risk of censorship. I don’t think we have any state censorship right now: there are controversial movies made with state money. But I expect the rules will change and there could be problems ahead.
The other big issue is corruption. Filmmakers will take a million dollars but make the film for a few hundred thousand. That’s why it costs so much more here.
After spending 15 years in Spain, 32-year-old Olga Arlauskas returned to Russia to set up her own production company with her husband Nikita Tikhonov-Rau. Straightening Sigh (2014), their film about about life in contemporary Vladivostok, was in the main competition at Movement.
“Russia is a very good place to make documentaries”
My film was made with money from the Ministry of Culture: that’s a good thing because it’s very important to have quality films in this country as long as it's possible to make the film you want. Well-made films can make people think about how they might change their lives and thier country. So my documentary might help change things.
Russia is a very good place to make documentaries but the standard is pretty low. There are a lot of classical documentary makers doing exactly the same thing as 30 or 40 years ago. Young documentary makers are trying to do something new but they’re still not looking to Europe and America for inspiration.
I’m working on another documentary about the Dima Yakolvev Law, which bans US citizens from adopting Russian children. I’m not getting any support from Russia or from abroad. Some American producers offered me some money but I refused. I don’t want anyone to tell me how I should make the film; I want to tell the truth.
Svetlana Chernikova, 27, from Voronezh, is currently working on her first full-length feature. Her film Yura (2014) was part of Movement’s short film competition.
“There is so much pain inside people in Russia, so many broken lives. You could make a film about anybody if you really wanted to”
Russia is a good country to make films in, but it’s difficult financially because nobody understands the need for film. But if you really love something — and you have enough energy — then you’ll find the money. In Russia all paths are open, but people don’t have anything to say. There is so much pain inside people in Russia, so many broken lives. You could make a film about anybody if you really wanted to.
We’ve been filming on the steppe in southern Russia. We’ve shot a number of portraits of people, capturing their outlook on life. We’re not interested in documentary reality per se: we’re interested in the core of a person and the way they live their lives.
Maxim Kuzmin, 25, is director of Utopia Pictures, a distribution company specialising in art house cinema
“Hard to be a God, the last film we distributed, took a record of $1.4 million at the box office”
It’s not easy for distributors of independent film because it’s a niche market — about 20% of the overall box office. But, crucially, it’s expanding. If you just look at our company, audiences for independent cinema have grown by over 25%.
Russian art house cinema is easier to work with than with foreign films because the film is much more of an event locally, which helps with marketing. Hard to be a God (2013), the last film we distributed, took a record of $1.4 million at the box office. That film, which Alexei German Sr worked on for over 10 years, already had a story behind it. It also received grants from the Russian Cinema Fund to help with PR. It wasn’t a lot of money, but distributing art house films is a big risk, so these grants help.
Directors are turning more and more towards “mainstream art house” that’s more oriented towards the audience. This is partly because of the success enjoyed by foreign “mainstream art house” directors Lars von Trier, Woody Allen and Pedro Almodovar.
Egor Koreshkov, 28, is best known as the lead in 2013’s hit comedy Now a Kiss! (Gorko!: 2013). He was in Omsk promoting Winter Journey (2013), a film which hit the headlines for its depiction of a gay relationship.
“I think our drama schools are excellent for theatre, but not for film”
As an actor I’m getting a lot of offers of work, and I’m lucky to be able to pick and choose what I want do.
I think our drama schools are excellent for theatre, but not for film. There is only one university for film acting — VGIK in Moscow, and even they don’t teach actors to work with the camera properly or to deliver dialogue right. Nevertheless, I’d say the level of acting in Russia is quite high overall.
What happened with Winter Journey is really strange. It hit at a time when the government had just passed all these laws. Now they’re looking to ban swearing. It will be illegal to use swear words in any film that will be shown to the public, even if it’s an 18+ film. That’s the sort of democracy we live in!