Russian Minister of Culture Completes Takeover of State Film Funding
SOCHI -- Six months after first moving to seize full control of Russia's annual $170 million film funding pot, culture minister Vladimir Medinsky has announced the process is complete.
What began as a move by Kremlin ideologues - unhappy with the performance of state-funded Russian movies, to have more influence over the sort of films paid for with public coin, has ended with complete victory for a politician criticized by his enemies as narrowly nationalistic in his artistic tastes.
In an order published on the ministry's website, Medinsky says that with immediate effect all state film funding will be controlled by the culture ministry under the direction of deputy minister Ivan Demidov.
He specifically refers to a late May meeting on the development of the Russian national film industry chaired by President Putin as among the reasons for his decision.
The battle for control of state film funding had been brewing since changes were introduced several years ago when the quasi-autonomous Cinema Fund was set up to distribute the lion's share of the annual public money to a group of at first seven, later 10, top production companies. The Cinema Fund largely replaced the functions of the former GosKino - a state body little changes since Soviet times.
A smaller amount to fund documentaries, animation, children's films, scientific and training support was left with the Ministry of Culture.
But as it became evident that Cinema Fund-backed producers were failing to make movies that achieved box office success, Medinsky, backed by influential Kremlin ideologue Vladislav Surkov, the architect of President Vladimir Putin's "managed democracy," moved to seize control.
Signaling his intentions in November, in January Medinsky replaced the fund's popular head Sergey Tolstikov with Anton Malyshev, the son of Vladimir Malyshev, the rector of the top national film school VGIK and by April the fund's international department - responsible for co-production funding, was closed.
Today's checkmate effectively means the end of a degree of autonomy at the Cinema Fund although it is unlikely to be closed, Anton Malyshev is a close friend and political colleague of Demidov.
But widespread anxiety among Russian producers making international coproductions are unfounded, Elena Lapina, Demidov's deputy, told a roundtable discussion on German-Russian co-productions today at the 24th edition of the national Russian film festival Kinotavr in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
"There is money available for good films - whether they are Russian or co-productions," she said.
International bilateral agreements signed by the Cinema Fund would be honored and new legal documents to allow the Ministry of Culture to assume those responsibilities were being drawn up, she added.
Simone Baumann, the Russian representative for German national film body German Films, who helped broker a long-awaited German-Russian Co-production Treaty two years ago and more recently a co-development pact, said she welcomed the news.
"We are doing only one or two co-productions between Germany and Russian each year, but actually there are a lot of good projects and potential for double that number."