Officials, prosecutors and church unite against 'Mathilda'

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Russia In Review

The new movie Mathilda, by well-known Russian director Alexey Uchitel, is scheduled for release at the end of March, but already the picture about the romance of the last Russian tsar, Nikolay II, and ballerina Mathilda Kschessinska has divided the country. 

Nikolay II is sainted by Russia’s Orthodox Church, so the story about his love affair aspiring to historical fact has been labeled as “slander” by some religious officials, while one religious organization has announced that it will set on fire all cinemas in the country where the picture will be shown.

In addition, Nataliya Poklonskaya, the former district attorney of Crimea and now a member of Russia’s Parliament, has twice sent a request to the General Prosecutor Office of Russia, asking to check the movie for extremism and possibly for insulting the feelings of believers. In that case, if prosecutors were to find any legal problems, the film could be banned for viewing completely.

Russia’s Ministry of Culture recently also revealed that it received a petition to ban the movie, signed by 20,000 of the country’s citizens. This initiative has been supported by many officials, including Vladimir Medinsky, the Minister of Culture, who said he “desires to not hear the name of the movie at all.”

In early March, however, Russia’s Union of Film Directors published an open letter saying that the situation around Mathilda looks “completely unhealthy” and the country’s culture “should not fall under the pressure of new censorship.”

European Films See New Challenge in Russia

European films face a rising number of challenges on the way to Russia’s market and a planned increase of prices for distribution licenses for foreign films could seriously worsen the situation, Alexandr Bukreev, the head of Russian distribution company PilotKino, has recently suggested.

He explained that PilotKino is one of the leading promoters of European movies in the Russian market, focusing primarily on Italian films. In addition, the company annually holds the RIFF Festival, specially established for Italian movies.

Bukreev claims that the governmental struggle against Hollywood movies has become “a hot button” for promoters of non-Hollywood foreign films in the country. In his opinion, under the new rules Russia’s viewers would never have seen Iranian Oscar winner The Salesman, because the movie collected small box-office revenue in the country, and so it would be senseless to run it in Russia at all.

The same opinion was expressed by Sergey Fedyakov, head of the municipal cinema branch of the city of Yekaterinburg, who also warned that the price hike for a distribution license to five million rubles ($85,000) will shut the door to Russia’s cinemas for all foreign movies except Hollywood’s.

Fedyakov suggests that Russian viewers may be deprived independent U.S. and high-quality European films. The government campaign has already brought problems for European films, significantly reducing their share of the Russia market. In fact, the various festivals are now the only way to show such films to domestic viewers, Fedyakov believes.

According to various estimates, the share of European films in the Russian market is dramatically shrinking and accounts now for less than 1.5% of the total, while in 2010 it was about 4%.

Directors Promise Major Strike Against Web Pirates

In early February, Russia’s Parliament registered a bill proposing a complete ban on mirror websites where illegal copies of films are placed, also known as pirates’ websites.

In the opinion of Russia’s Association of Film Producers, the authors of the initiative, this measure, in addition to a ban on viewing pirates’ websites in web search engines, will curb the illegal viewing of both Russia’s and foreign films on the Internet and boost their combined box office.

Russia’s is the world’s fourth-largest Internet market and according to an opinion poll held in 2014 by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center, roughly 78% of the country’s citizens regularly watch films on the pirates’ websites, breaking the law and trespassing on the intellectual property of rights-holders.

According to some estimates, Russia’s movie industry could gather nearly two to three times more money each year if the government actually succeeded in the fight against piracy.  

In January 2016, Russia’s filmmakers forced the government agencies to ban Rutracker.org, known as the largest pirates’ website in Russia and one of the largest in the world. However, regulators left a lot of loopholes for pirates, so most users managed to bypass the interlock and the actual number of viewers at the website over the past year was reduced only about 20%.

Sergey Selianov, the head of Russia’s STV Film Company, believes that the new rules, which are designed to be enforced this year, should bring “serious changes” to the country’s film market, bringing down the number of illegal viewings of films on the web. He also suggests that an anti-piracy campaign in the country has proved its value, as most users have begun to “feel shame for watching or downloading illegal content.”