May 7, 2008
Russia’s Studio System
By Vladimir Kozlov
Gorky Studio, the country's oldest film studio complex, is slated for privatization by the end of this year, raising fears that a potential buyer could acquire it for the land, which could be used as a site for a shopping center or residential complex.
When about a week ago the government announced that it included Gorky Studio in the list of state-run assets to be sold by the end of this year, the news didn't surprise industry insiders and observers. Talks about privatizing the country's large film studio complexes that were built in Soviet times and are in need of renovation, have been going on for all the fifteen years or so that privatization has been taking place in Russia.
So far however, none of the major film studios, such as the country's biggest complex Mosfilm - which many believe to be comparable to European studios at least in size if not in quality of provided services - or St. Petersburg's Lenfilm and Moscow's Gorky Studio, have been privatized.
Mosfilm seems to be set to remain state-run, while the sale of the other two above mentioned complexes has been seriously discussed in the last few years, and a tender for Gorky was even announced a couple years ago. That coincided with an upsurge in the domestic film production, resulting in dozens of companies placing bids for the complex. The government eventually chose to cancel the sale as the original starting price of $5 million must have been too low.
While the sale of Lenfilm has been postponed at the request of city authorities, Gorky is now on the block again. Certainly, little detail is available at the moment as for what companies would place a bid for the complex. But one thing is more or less sure: the domestic film industry largely consists of smaller companies that would never have cash to buy the complex, so a bidder from outside of the film industry would potentially have an upper hand.
What could be possible ramifications of that? The land on which the complex is located - a huge piece not far from the center of Moscow - is certainly attractive for developers eager to build something on it, rather than go on with the film studio business. Although conditions of the sale tender may stipulate that the studio should not be converted into something else, there are always ways around.
But would it really be a tragedy, if the complex is torn down and the site is used for a big shopping mall or a business center? I don't think so. When it comes to film production here, market factors are more important than anything else.
If there is demand for studio facilities, there will be supply. Although it may not necessarily come from where people expect it. For example, there have been talks about erecting a studio complex outside Moscow, which some people have already christened "Russian Hollywood."
One major argument in favor of the preservation of Gorky Studio is nostalgia. True, this is the country's oldest film studio - if assumed that it is a direct successor to film society Rus, which was established back in 1915. In addition to that, the Soviet Union's first sound feature film, 1931's Putyovka v zhizn (Road to Life), was shot there, and in the 1950s to 1980s, when the complex became focused on children's films, many movies well known to generations of Soviet people were produced at Gorky Studio.