Distrib yanks 'Borat' from Russia slate

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LONDON -- Russian audiences will not be seeing 20th Century Fox's "Borat" because local distributor Gemini Film has pulled the plug on a theatrical release after authorities hinted that they might ban it.

Officials at movie-licensing body the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography, who were shown Sacha Baron Cohen's wacky satire, told Gemini not to release the film because it contained ethnic and religiously offensive material.

"We have not banned the film. We recommended that the film not be released because it contains material that could offend nationalities or religions," Yuri Vasyuchkov, head of the agency's registration department, said in an interview Thursday.

A recent spate of racist attacks in Russia and a diplomatic row with Georgia that led to hundreds of ethnic Georgians being deported from Moscow for alleged immigration violations have raised racial and national tensions, contributing to fears that the film could spark further trouble, he said.

"After an unofficial viewing, we suggested that it not be released in cinemas. It has not been banned, as no one has even asked us to officially grant the film a certificate," Vasyuchkov said, though he added that the recommendation has been put to Gemini in writing, signed by agency deputy head Alexander Golutva.

Gemini declined comment Thursday on the financial cost of pulling the plug on Russian distribution of "Borat" -- which opened to $18.6 million from 995 screens in 17 countries outside North America -- other than to confirm that the film will now only be released in the territory on DVD.

The film -- which pokes fun at Russia's neighbor and ally Kazakhstan, caricaturing the inhabitants of the central Asian country as ignorant, backward buffoons -- was scheduled for a Nov. 30 release in Russia in an estimated 150-200 theaters, industry sources in Moscow said.
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