Russian Industry Debates Expected Box Office Quotas for Homegrown Films

The deputy speaker of the country's parliament says France-style quotas are key, and state money should fund "films that support human values and patriotism."

MOSCOW -- Quotas and government specifications for film funding that would restrict Kremlin coin for movies to historic, patriotic and nationally uplifting films are in the cards in Russia.

Moves to make exhibitors screen a minimum quota of 20 percent of Russian films as a way of supporting local production and ensuring films are culturally acceptable to political masters so far remain unadopted by the Ministry of Culture, which channels more than $170 million in public funding to producers here each year.

But that, and a specific list of the sort of films that will attract public cash, are gaining traction as president Vladimir Putin laments the misuse of taxpayer money given to producers, and a culturally conservative ideology -- exemplified by recent laws insisting that foreign-funded charities and nongovernment organizations register as "foreign agents" -- becomes ever more firmly embedded in the regime's rhetoric and laws.

Vladimir Zheleznyak, the deputy speaker of Russia's parliament, the State Duma -- whose Facebook profile includes an image of him in naval cadet uniform with two comrades -- believes that only by engineering the content and number of Russian films on cinema screens can the country boost the local film industry.

“It is important that state money goes to those films that support human values and patriotism,” he told The Hollywood Reporter Tuesday after a 90-minute discussion with producers and exhibitors hosted by business information service RBK in Moscow

“We've many historical stories, and in today's life it is important that we make films based on those stories.”

Critics say quotas and a state shopping list for specific scripts smacks of Soviet methods and will drive Russian audiences away in droves.

But Zheleznyak insists that like the French -- who placed a levy on all cinema and AV sales and turnover which goes to supporting national film and culture -- Russia needs to act.

“We want to support good films,” he said. “We won't give a kopek [cent] to films that are neither fish nor fowl.”

Producers at the roundtable countered that good films come from passionate, creative writers and directors and the state's role should be to guarantee a stable funding formula and the training of a new generation of professionally skilled crew.

Dmitry Rudovsky, whose Moscow-based Art Pictures is a producer of an epic new 3D IMAX war film Stalingrad -- due for a fall release through Sony, said the film -- directed by his business partner Fedor Bondarchuk, had cost $30 million to make but was expected to take as much as that at the Russian box office alone before international sales, TV and other sales were taken into account.

“Of course, the government has the right to give money to make movies but they must understand that cinema is not a factory and there are no guarantees of success,” Rudovsky told THR.

Politicians and officials have become increasingly concerned as money given to commercial film production companies have failed to stop the decline in local audiences -- with the box office share of Russian movies falling to 13 percent of an annual billion dollar market.

Dmitry Litvintsev, a member of parliament for Vladimir Zhirinovsky's right-wing LDPR (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) and culture committee member who graduated from VGIK, Russia's top film school, rounded on exhibitors, telling Igor Dobrovolsky, president of Luxor cinema chain, that exhibitors should be ashamed of screening an overwhelming number of Hollywood blockbusters rather than local films.

“Just show Russian films! Is 20 percent too much to ask?” he demanded as he brandished a list of U.S. films shown in the last year.

Sergey Katin, general director of Cinema Park, countered that 40 percent of Russians never go to the cinema anyway and that exhibitors were just following their commercial interests. If the government wanted to use tax and other fiscal tools to change the business equation that would be wise, he suggested.

Igor Tolstunov, whose production company Profit made disaster movie Metro, said what the industry needed most was a stable system that would enable them to plan ahead.

Russian films already represented around 18 percent of all films shown -- but quotas would likely only help successful films that did not need it, he said.

“The first to suffer will be those Russian films that are already hard to screen. If I was the owner of a cinema chain I would keep the quota for Legend No. 17 [recent successful Russian ice hockey movie]. To produce high-quality movies we need a pipeline, and that needs a system -- and that can't be done overnight,” Tolstunov said.