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With Russia's Biggest Hit Opening in the US, All Eyes Are On the Country's Film Industry and Anti-LGBT Laws

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by Casey Cipriani
February 28, 2014 2:32 PM
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Sont Pictures Yanina Studilina in "Stalingrad"

Now, with the Olympics over and the world's eyes turned from Sochi, Russia's biggest film is coming to America and bringing with it questions about how the country's controversial anti-LGBT propaganda regulation laws and policies affect the Russian film industry.

"Stalingrad" is Russia's first film ever presented in IMAX 3D and is the country's highest grossing film of all time, having earned the equivalent of over $65 million at the box office during its six week run in Russian theaters. The film examines the extended battle between Soviet and German forces that helped turn the tide of World War II. "Stalingrad" is indeed an over-the-top, epic war drama no doubt inspired by many an American blockbuster.

Actress Yanina Studilina plays Masha, a Russian woman trapped in Stalingrad who catches the eye of a conflicted German soldier with whom she begins a relationship. When asked about how Putin's law may affect Russian cinema, she said that, as an actress it doesn't affect her much, but acknowledged that having LGBT characters in a film might be a bit difficult.

"Maybe for the mainstream it would be tough," she said. "There is, of course, some themes that are not so well discussed. But I think if you want to do [that] kind of movie, you can do it at a film festival. If it has a great showing at film festivals it can move to the mainstream."

Such is what happened with France's "Blue is the Warmest Color," which won the Palme D'or at Cannes, though its Russian distribution was small and limited to ages 18 and over.

"Stalingrad"

She explained that an Estonian director she had previously worked with who was making a film about a romance between two women – one Russian and one French – had approached her asking if she would be interested in playing the Russian woman. She's not yet sure if she will take the part, but emphasized that she wasn't hesitant about the content. 

"He was just asking if I was OK dealing with that at all," she said. "It's a part I would love to take, especially in this project. But he was a little bit nervous about how it will get released in Russia."

"Stalingrad"'s director, Fedor Bondarchuk, said that film content is not an issue; rather, for decades the problem was financial.

"I think beginning from the 90s there haven't been any restrictions in terms of what to shoot," said Bondarchuk. "The only restriction was economic. And education because now we have new cameras and digital programming. This is the question, not the right choice in themes or genres."

Both Bondarchuk and Studilina believe that the issue of the LGBT propaganda law is, in a way, being blown out of proportion by the Western press, and creating a negative view of a brutal Russia that is simply nonexistent.

"We are just more conservative, I think, in some ways," Studilina said. "It's just a huge country and there are a lot of people who do like Putin and who don't like Putin. It's the same as in the U.S. someone is a Democrat the other is not." The law, Bondarchuk said, doesn't affect his filmmaking.

"We have put a lot of gay couples in films. I don't know of any films which have been rated higher because of gay people in it." Bondarchuk said. They say that despite the images of brutality and discrimination coming out of Russia, LGBT people do not live in fear and that Russia is not the frightening bastion of homophobia that the rest of the world may imagine. "I learn about this problem only from the newspapers but not in real life," Bondarchuk said. "It is not a real life problem."

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