Russian Box Office Resilient in Face of Economic Crisis

'Battle for Sevastopol'

Q1 figures suggest Russia still heading for a billion dollar year.

Russian box office takings and admissions are up in real terms for the first quarter of 2015, demonstrating the resilience of cinema in the face of the country's economic crisis.

Figures for the first three months of the year released at a top-level industry conference in Moscow show that theatrical receipts through the end of March totaled between 13 and 14 billion rubles ($232-$250 million at current exchange rates).

Although it is hard to use first quarter figures to forecast annual box office in a country where local currency has lost around 40 percent of its value against the dollar in the past year, the numbers suggest that overall box office may still not be far off the billion dollar annual receipts recorded in Russia in recent years.

Domestically-produced Russian language movies made up about a third of the box office takings, with foreign movies -- mostly Hollywood product -- accounting for the rest. Soulless 2, starring Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters star, Russian actor Danila Kozlovsky, and wartime epic Battle for Sevastopol, were singled out by participants at the Moscow conference April 6 organized by Russian financial business daily Vedomosti.

Cinema footfall for the first quarter was around 59 million -- 500,000 more than the comparative figure for 2014, conference participants heard.

Conference participants were gave mixed signals about the economic prospects for cinema this year.

Ekaterina Mtsitouridze, who oversees movie promotion agency Roskino, painted a bleak picture, dubbing the situation around Russian cinema "a horror movie."

Leading producers Sergey Selyanov and producer of Golden Globe winning film LeviathanAlexander Rodnyansky, were more positive, though they both cautioned that the year would not be an easy one for the movie industry in Russia.

Selyanov noted that the Russian ministry of culture -- which has attempted to support domestic cinema by influencing release dates, though it has resisted calls for the introduction of quotas for foreign films -- often did more to hinder than help the local industry. There were not enough good genre movies being produced.

"The problem is we are not taking off, basically we are treading water," he said.

The culture ministry failed to understand the "real picture" and state funding was increasingly a political football that threatened to repeat the failure of Soviet-era centralized planning when the only approved films were "about the bright socialist life," which was, he said "the most boring time in Soviet cinema."

State manipulation of the release dates of domestic movies -- could "only hurt cinema" Rodnyansky said, adding that even if a Russian movie was given a better window a week before the release of a Hollywood film, the studio blockbuster would still bury it. Selyanov noted that producers would use whatever means necessary to get the best release slot they can for their films. Release dates were "worth their weight in gold," conference participants agreed.

The conference concluded with a screening of Battle for Sevastopol -- a Russian Ukrainian production that chimes with Russia's current mood of popular nationalism. Released last week just over a month before the country marks the 70th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany -- which will include a Red Square parade featuring some of the country's remaining 140,000 frontline war veterans -- the film topped the weekend box office with more than $500,000 in ticket sales.

The producers of Sevastopol, which has a $5 million budget, announced Tuesday that their next film would be an adaptation of sci-fi novel Chernovik by Sergey Lukyanenko, the author of Night Watch and Day Watch -- the Russian-language movie adaptations of which in 2004 and 2006 respectively launched Timur Bekmambetov's directing career before he became the first Russian director since Soviet times to move to Hollywood.