Russian MP calls for ban on outspoken actors

Columns
Russia In Review

Russian MP Ivan Sukhanov stated that cinema actors in Russia should be banned from state-funded movies if they are found making any anti-Russian statements in public.

Speaking recently, Sukhanov called on the Russian Culture Ministry and the Cinema Fund to issue a directive to filmmakers ordering them to not hire actors who “throw mud” at Russian citizens. Although he added that “it would be wrong to prohibit anything,” he recommended aiming this policy at filmmakers using state funding. It is not clear, however, what penalties directors would suffer for ignoring this proposed order. 

Sukhanov’s proposal is believed to be linked with statements by famed Russian-born cinema actor Alexei Serebryakov, who is well-known in the country for his opposition views. In an interview earlier this year, Serebryakov made a series of controversial statements, including the argument that “power, arrogance and rudeness” are elements of Russia’s national identity.

Following the proposal by Sukhanov, Russian state-owned media corporation RIA Novosti compiled a list of Russian actors and cinema workers who have criticized their country over the past several years. Along with Serebryakov, the list includes several other famous cinema actors. Konstantin Raykin, in particular, was singled out for raising concerns about the growing censorship in both the cinema and theatre arenas, stating, “The state agencies should not stay in the way of art.”

If the proposal is approved, these actors most likely would have difficulty finding jobs, since almost all major movies in Russia in recent years have been made with government funding, including Golden Globe and Oscar-winning Leviathan, which starred Serebryakov.

Russia Prepares to Make English-Language Films

Russian movies were shown to 10.7 million viewers on foreign screens in 2018, earning a box office of $44.3 million outside the domestic market, according to a data recently released by the Cinema Fund. Based on these results, filmmakers have started making plans to shoot their first English-language movies.

Sixty-two movies out of 130 produced by Russian filmmakers in 2018 were released in at least one foreign country. This figure was higher than in 2015, when only 56 Russian films debuted outside Russia.

In 2016, there were only 9.3 million foreign viewers who watched Russian films abroad. However, the box office was higher than in 2017, at $47.8 million that year.

Beyond the Edge, directed by Aleksandr Boguslavskiy, is likely to be the first of the English-language Russian productions. Several Russian films were also purchased by Netflix and HBO. Netflix plans to show the Russian drama Dovlatov in North America, the U.K., Australia and Scandinavia in 2018.

Maria Voght, a Russian cinema critic, noted that the growing box office in the foreign markets bolsters the national cinema industry. According to Voght, in the past years Russian filmmakers only produced war stories, comedies and dramas, but recently more interest has been expressed in the horror and fantasy genres.

More Big Screens Are Needed in Russia

The domestic cinema market in Russia should grow and there are clear prerequisites for this, according to Mikhail Shvidkoy, the Russian President’s special representative on international cultural cooperation.

Speaking recently during a press conference, Shvidkoy opined that Russia needs more big screens in order to boost its combined domestic box office. In Russia, he estimated, there were only around 4,200 big screens in 2017, an extremely small figure for a country with a population of around 146 million people.

In France, in comparison, there are 7,000 cinema screens for a population of 80 million, so the number of big screens per capita is noticeably higher.

A rise in the number of big screens in Russia, Shvidkoy observed, should not only lead to domestic box-office growth but create a good economic environment for the domestic cinema industry and provide filmmakers “with more freedom in producing movies.”

The combined box office in the Russian domestic market was 29.4 billion rubles (US$500 million) in the first half of 2017, up 15% compared to the same period the previous year. The number of visitors to Russian cinemas grew by 4.3 million. The domestic market in Russia is recovering after a slump in 2014 and 2015 associated with the country’s economic crisis.