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#15 - JRL 7256
RIA Novosti
July 17, 2003
By Anatoli KOROLEV, RIA Novosti analyst

The Russian government opposes the idea of quotas on foreign film releases, the Press Ministry PR on July 15. It was commenting on a government conclusion concerning a bill, "On the Support of Cinematography," proposed by Valery Galchenko of the State Duma, parliament's lower house.

The idea of getting bigger audiences for Russian-made films by limiting or even banning foreign films, especially Hollywood productions, appears too simplistic to work. Indeed, the idea is absolutely unacceptable in a democratic state.

The quota issue was discussed at the highest level in June, when President Vladimir Putin chaired a State Council session, involving a hundred people in the ceremonial St. George Hall at St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum.

Karen Shakhnazarov, head of Russia's largest studio, told the session about a conversation he had had with a taxi driver who, after recognising his passenger, said that he only liked American movies, because Russian movies were too boring.

As Mr. Shakhnazarov was urging the State Council to think about how to reduce the inflow of cheap Hollywood movies, President Putin unexpectedly cut in to say he agreed with the taxi driver, on certain points, as everyone had the night to their own preferences. He added that bans could not help in this sense.

The taxi driver is in the majority, as far as his tastes are concerned. The latest statistics bear out this point: 75 features have been released throughout Russia in the last three months.

Hollywood movies accounted for the lion's share, 36, as against only twelve Russian-made films.

Box-office returns are even more striking. "Matrix:

Reloaded," for one, beat two rec for the number of copies distributed, a breathtaking 184, and the second for the best start ever made in the Russian cinema. It took US$3,851,667 at the box office in three days - more than a million dollars a day!

Annual returns of Russian films are incomparably below.

There is only one exception, Alexander Sokurov's "The Russian Ark," with its highbrow treatment of Russian history. It has proved to be something of a hit in the USA, making more than a million and a half dollars, unheard - of for a foreign film in America. Paradoxically, only a few Muscovites have seen it. Even the CineComplex at Krasnaya Presnya, the city's most prestigious cinema for film buffs showed it only twice a day, and at the most inconvenient times, i.e. early morning and close to midnight. The inimitable "Matrix" was on all through the day.

The release system is the weakest point of Russian cinema industry. Distributors snatch at American blockbusters to turn a blind eye to Russian films, however good they might be. Virtually no Russian-made film even covers its outlay, let alone makes a profit. Nikita Mikhalkov's pictures are the only exceptions, as he is an advertising master. It takes 100,000 to 300,000 dollars to make the average Russian film. Many directors see their poverty as a fine stimulant, and make refined highbrow films.

Sokurov, for one, was known for excellent films on the smallest possible budgets before he won global renown.

These masterpieces, however, have their chance as they come face to face with Hollywood "monsters." Take Tashiko Kaetano's "Dolls," a thoroughly Japanese poetic drama of doomed love. It was on show in only one Moscow theatre, with two copies - and made a stunning $87,517.

Russians are ready to pay for something out-of-the-ordinary.

Fifty to sixty features are currently being filmed at Russian studios. Forty of these have been given government grants, while there are twenty cartoons and more than 250 documentaries. Federal filmmaking allocations for this year amount to 1,543,400,000 roubles, roughly $51.5 million.

Russia has 120 million possible movie-goers, and is potentially the world's third-largest market. A ban on foreign films would only revive the late ways of the Cold War, when a mere two or three foreign films a year were released throughout the Soviet Union.

Now, it's a case of free competition and not prohibition for Russia.

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