Special report: Russia

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The film industries of the Soviet Union's former republics entered a difficult period in the early 1990s when the disintegration of the Soviet empire collapsed the national film distribution system, and the governments of the newly independent states had no cash for funding film production. To make matters worse, the private sector was still too young and too weak to play an important role.

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By the late 2000s, however, the situation in the film industries of most former Soviet republics had improved, with Russia demonstrating the most remarkable growth. Money provided by the governments was an important contribution in domestic film production of many post-Soviet countries, but the criteria of selecting projects eligible for state support sometimes were not clear enough, causing substantial criticism.

RUSSIA

Russia's film industry has been going through a rocky period for nearly two years. In May 2008, the state agency for culture and cinema, a governmental body administering state support for the film industry, was disbanded, causing the collapse of the entire scheme of state support. In the fall of 2008, the global economic downturn made things worse, as private investors expediently exited the industry.

In 2009, state support was only provided to projects already in production, while no new films were launched with government funds.

"In 2010, the total amount of state support for the film industry is to be 4.2 billion roubles ($142.4 million)," says Alexei Sokhnev, a spokesman for the film department at the culture ministry. "The culture ministry is planning to introduce a new system of state support for the film sector, which would allow more careful selection of projects eligible for support," he added without elaborating on the new system.


"Melody for a Street Organ"
 
In 2009, 110 feature films were made in Russia, according to the research group R Films, of which 65 were produced with government money. An average budget was 100 million roubles ($3.4 million).

Fyodor Bondarchuk's "Obitayemy Ostrov" (Inhabited Island), with a reported budget of roughly $40 million, became the most expensive film made in Russia in 2009 (or ever before).

Meanwhile, the main question that may or may not be answered this year is if the crisis is over and how soon the industry is going to be back on track. One sign that the crisis in the Russian film industry may be abating is the fact that the country's main studio complexes are operating nearly at full capacity. "Our production capacities are currently being used by about 90%, which is more than it was before the crisis," says Karen Shakhnazarov, general director of Mosfilm, the country's largest studio complex. But he added that the situation is not typical for the industry. "Elsewhere, as far as I know, the situation is not as good."

According to Shakhnazarov, 2000 saw a roughly 12% dip in money terms, as Mosfilm had to cut prices for their services in response to the economic downturn.

"We turned in a profit in 2009, although not as big as in 2008," says Stanislav Yershov, head of the Gorki studio complex in Moscow. "Still, the future is uncertain as some projects lack funding and there has been a decrease in new projects because of uncertainty with state funding."

According to Armen Dishdishyan, vp international at Russia's largest indie film producer and distributor, Central Partnership, it is too early to speak about the impact of the economic crisis on the domestic film industry. "The most current issue is state support for the domestic film industry," he says. "But this issue is being addressed. Meanwhile, there are two major problems: the shortage of film theaters and insufficient participation of the state in the promotion of domestic cinema on an international level."

UKRAINE


The Ukrainian film industry is the second-largest in the former Soviet Union and, unlike Russia, it has primarily relied on private capital over the last few years.


"Inhabited Island"
 
Similarly to Russia, the country's large film complexes -- Dovzhenko, Odessa and Yalta -- were built in Soviet times when they served as both studio and production companies. These days, they are primarily used as studio complexes, while new independent companies, like Sota Cinema Group, became leaders in production.

According to Dmitry Kolesnikov, vice president of the Ukrainian film producers' association, 2009 primarily saw releases of movies made in the previous years, such as Eduard Parri's Russian/Ukrainian co-production "O, Schastlivchik" (O, Lucky Man), co-produced by Star Media, and veteran director Kira Muratova's "Melodiya Dlya Sharmanki" (A Melody For a Street Organ).

Meanwhile, the state support system didn't work last year. "The 50 million hryvnas ($6.3 million) in state support for the national film industry, promised by the government, was not actually provided," Kolesnikov says. "As a result, not a single film project supported by the state was launched in 2009."

Kolesnikov notes that while last year the national film industry stagnated, with the number of features in production about 10 to 15 as in the previous years, there was some good news as well: Producers came to the realization that a domestic film could make money at the boxoffice. "Investors have turned to domestic production," he says.



GEORGIA

Back in Soviet times, Georgia had one of the best-developed film industries among the former Soviet republics. These days, after a very difficult period in the 1990s and early 2000s, the country's film sector is recovering, showing an increase in production just about every year.

According to Gocha Zhorzholiani, first deputy director of the Georgian National Film Center (GNFC), in 2009, 10 feature films were made in Georgia (four of which supported by the GNFC), compared with six featured in the previous year. While in 2010, there are plans to make between 12 and 15 features, of which six to seven are to be supported by the GNFC.

Last year, 1.1 million lari ($1.9 million) was spent from the state subsidies, and this year the state support for the film production is forecasted to be increased up to 3 million lari ($5 million), Zhorzholiani reports.

An average budget of a Georgian feature shot in 2009 was 500,000 lari ($845,000), while "Street Days," with a budget of 1 million lari ($1.7 million) became last year's most expensive production.

ARMENIA

For the nearly 20 years that have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia's film industry has been in a very difficult situation. Only in recent years has there been some progress.

In 2005, Armenfilm, formerly the country's sole production and studio company, was transformed into the National Film Center of Armenia. Today, it remains the country's only major film company, being involved in nearly all Armenian productions.

"In 2009, seven feature films were produced in the country," says Gayane Durgarya, a representative of the Armenian culture ministry. She adds that the same number of features is supposed to be produced in 2010, while last year's state support figure of 293,518 dram ($770,000) is to stay unchanged.

The situation in the national film industry is aggravated by the fact that the distribution and exhibition sectors are nearly non-existent. As of mid-2009, only three theaters and one distribution company operated in the entire country with a population of 3.2 million people, according to the local filmmakers' union.
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