Cannes: Dealmakers Lose Faith in Russia

Russian competition entry "Leviathan"

The ruble has fallen and there are calls for quotas on foreign films, leading to uncertainty.

Feelings in Cannes about Russian cinema and the Russian film market are a study in contrasts.

On one hand, with Andrei Zvyagintsev's much-ballyhooed competition title Leviathan, Russia has its best shot at winning a Palme d'Or since Mikhail Kalatozov's The Cranes Are Flying took the festival's top honor for the Soviet Union back in 1958. But the ongoing political standoff between Moscow and Ukraine has shaken economic confidence in Russia.

“The Russian rubble has fallen 20 percent compared to last year,” said Alexander van Dulmen, CEO of A Company, which buys and distributes titles for the Russian market. “But we pay our minimum guarantees in dollars, so with the same admissions, we are getting hit hard.”

On top of that, calls by Russian politicians to introduce quotas on foreign films and even banning bad language, sex and violence in movies screened in the country has made distributors and sales companies nervous about the future of the once-booming market.

“There's a lot of uncertainty. There's geopolitical issues, there's economic issues, no one knows what will happen in the next six months,” said Adrian Politowski, CEO of Umedia, a producer on Cannes festival opener Grace of Monaco.

Russia has enjoyed years of double-digit growth and now accounts for around 5-6 percent of the budget of many an indie-financed international title. But several sales execs in Cannes report that Russia buyers are pulling back, looking to push down minimum guarantees for territory deals.

“But the fundamentals of the Russian market remain strong,” said Politowski, pointing to figures that showed a robust 18 percent jump in box-office revenues in the first quarter. And while nationalist politicians have threatened quotas, few familiar with the local industry believe Russia could produce enough films itself to meet local demand.

“This is a crisis, yes, things are tough,” says Dulmen. “But this isn't the first crisis in Russia. I've lived through two already and, usually, you end up stronger in the end.”