Barely recovered from the pandemic, the Russian cinema industry is suffering the fallout from the conflict in Ukraine with the withdrawal from theaters of the five Hollywood giants: Disney, Universal, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros and Paramount. The country is trying to turn to Asian productions.
Upon learning of Hollywood’s suspension of the release of its films in Russia, in reaction to the military intervention “unjustified” in Ukraine, Muscovite Mila Grekova has “immediately understood for whom the bell tolls”.
Translator of American films, Mila Grekova has been out of work since the decision of the five Hollywood giants – Disney, Universal, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros and Paramount – to withdraw their productions from the Russian calendar. She still questions the purpose of the sanctions: “It’s the West that I hate today, not (Vladimir) Putin, their target”. “Bollywood may replace Hollywood here, but it’s too late for me to learn Hindi”loose the 56-year-old translator, disillusioned, reacting to the idea of replacing American titles with Indian films, mentioned in Russia.
Beyond his case, it is the entire Russian cinema industry that is suffering the fallout from the conflict in Ukraine, when it was barely recovering from the coronavirus pandemic. The fate of the industry hangs this time on sanctions, while Russia was the leading European cinema market with 145.7 million admissions last year, according to the European Audiovisual Observatory.
Closure of half of the cinemas in the country
Before the suspension decided by Hollywood, the Russian company Mosfilm-Master carried out the dubbing of ten foreign films per month. “Today we have lost two thirds of orders”deplores its director Evguény Beline, who receives AFP in a powerful studio of Mosfilm. “During the pandemic, we had films, but no cinemas open. Today, we have our cinemas, but no films”, he summarizes. The country could close half of its theaters because they risk “lose up to 80% of revenue” after the departure of Hollywood, warned at the beginning of March the Russian Association of the owners of the rooms.
To adapt and survive, Mosfilm-Master is preparing to hire Korean and Chinese translators, even if its director “doubt that Asian films work for Russians” due to cultural differences. “It’s not always obvious”believes this 70-year-old specialist, whose “30 years in dubbing”: “Westerners are closer to us”.
Russians will learn to ‘explore themselves’
“The situation is extremely difficult, but not catastrophic”however, wants to put Olga Ziniakova, 37, president of one of the four major Russian cinema networks, Karo, into perspective. “Since the arrival of Hollywood in Russia, 30 years ago, we have gone through a lot of crises: political, economic, the pandemic…”, she says. Since the start of the offensive in Ukraine on February 24, the number of admissions to its 35 theaters has fallen by 70%, while the average price of a seat (300 rubles, or around three euros) has not not changed for five years. The State has already promised to double its financial support for film production and to minimize the tax burden as well as the cost of renting rooms, rejoices the president of the network, who seems very small in the huge red Oktiabr room, one of the largest in Europe with its 1500 seats, now empty.
The Russians, deprived of American blockbusters, “will explore themselves more deeply”however want to believe Olga Ziniakova, who cites the success of the cult Russian film of the 1990s, Brat (Brother), returned to the poster. Its network is also preparing to program Asian titles, but also Latin American ones. “And when Hollywood returns here, the Russian market and viewers will no longer be the same”she predicted.
World cinema “hostage” to politics
The departure of the Hollywood giants did not surprise Pavel Doreouli, 44, whose Atmosfera studio creates soundscapes for around fifteen films a year. “For years, world cinema has been hostage to big politics”believes this sound designer, member since 2020 of the international organization Sound editors for cinema (MPSE).
“Cannes or Berlin no longer reward films, but their position”he tackles, in reference to two international film festivals, which condemned Russia for its offensive in Ukraine. “Deprived of international festivals, Russians will give up auteur cinema which offers a different vision of the world, so precious today”he predicts.