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Moscow Junket Diary Two: Unraveling the Russian Film Industry, from Putin and Mikhalkov to Threat of Censorship

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 29, 2012 at 1:08PM

Trying to get a handle on the Russian film industry is like unwinding Winston Churchill's "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma"; you never seem to figure it out. There's much money, and various power players, led by the president himself, Vladimir Putin.
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Moscow Diorama
Jeanne Berney Moscow Diorama

The folks at Roskino, who promote and sell Russian films abroad, know how to make you feel welcome in Moscow. While the French and others have mounted festivals and film programs in the U.S., Russia opted to bring the North Americans to Moscow and show them not only their best new undistributed films but their rich and storied culture.

As a reward for three days of 20 back-to-back Digital October Official Roskino Screenings (DOORS), many of which are yet to be released in Russia, morning TV star and Roskino CEO Catherine Mtsitouridze and her team took this gaggle of indies on a whirlwind tour. The whole trip was possible thanks to sponsor Aeroflot (which gave a 50 % discount on flights) and her connections with VIP, which coddles travelers through airports, the Baltschug Kempinski and St. Petersburg Astoria Hotels, as well as a selection of top restaurants.

After the Moscow work was done, the North Americans were treated to two days in St. Petersburg, complete with tours of the magnificent Hermitage Museum and Peterhof Palace, as well as a treat from the Mikailovsky Theatre: Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" ballet, followed by a White Nights boat ride through the canals.

What did Roskino get out of it? Well, they're taking the show on the road to the Venice Film Festival. And they mounted a realistic and enlightening Summit on the challenges facing all foreign films back in North America, as well jump-starting the Americans' ongoing relationships with the Russian film community. For example, this group went home with a high opinion of actor-director Fedor Bondarchuk ("Ninth Company," a hit for Gravitas Ventures stateside) not only from his strong presence in two relatively commercial films, "Spy" and "Two Days," but his warm welcome on the dramatic battle-scarred set in the countryside outside St. Petersburg of his fourth film, the $27 million war drama "Stalingrad," which was in the midst of a fifteen-week film shoot. (More on that later, with photos.)

David Rubin, who is head of physical production for CBS Films, took a side trip to the gargantuan new $89-million studio Glavkino (part-owned by Bondarchuk), which is trying to rival Moscow's venerable Mosfilm, which hosted "Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol," and Czech studio Barrandov, where Russian film industry powerbroker Nikita Mikhalkov shot "Burnt by the Sun 2," Russia's official Oscar submission.

CBS Films is not looking to spend like the free-wheeling studios; at the DOORS Summit Rubin was interested in Russian co-productions, which make up the lion's share of Russian movies that land U.S. distribution, but agreed with others on the panel that finding partners you can trust is key; apparently, some Russian producers can be dodgy.

This article is related to: Festivals, Festivals, Independents


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.