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Russian films breaking the million-dollar mark in takings only began to appear in 2003-2004
In Russia's major cities, the 18-35-age bracket puts going to the movies at the top of the favourite pastimes. In 2003, the country's cinemas earned $190 million, and in 2006 this figure is expected to hit $0.5 billion. However, the Russian film industry has made little contribution to these achievements. Russian films breaking the million-dollar mark in takings only began to appear in 2003-2004. The action picture, Anti-killer-2: Anti-Terror, about a confrontation between terrorism "godfathers" by Yegor Konchalovsky brought in $2.68 million at the box office, while 72 Metres by Vladimir Khotinenko - a military drama about the loss of a submarine - made $2.54 million. Karen Shakhnazarov's historical action film, A Rider Named Death, based on the memoirs of "the king of terror" Boris Savinkov, has so far earned only $1.3 million. Yet, these figures are pale in comparison with US films' profits. For example, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King brought $14.02 million to Russian distributors; Van Helsing - $7.05 million; The Last Samurai - $4.72 million, and Troy, which has only just hit the screens, $4 million. In the 1990s, when the Russian film industry was on its knees due to a lack of funds and ideas (only 12 features were released in 1997), the few Russian cinemas that had not been turned into warehouses and shops showed Hollywood films alone. The Russian film industry began to revive later in the decade but failed to seize the initiative again on the domestic market. "There are objective reasons for this: the market is unprotected," says Karen Shakhnazarov, who is also the director general of the Mosfilm concern. "There are no quotas for screening foreign films. Russian features cannot compete with American ones. They are stunning visually, while the young people who go to the cinema today are more interested in seeing American films from the word go." There are about 350cinemas in the country, with 530 screens. By the end of 2004, another 50 cinemas, mostly multiplexes, will be opened. Cinemas are expanding to the regions, too. Five years ago, the regions shared only 10% of the total screening profits in Russia. Today this figure is 70%. Since last year, new cinemas have been built in the provinces, and old cinemas are being modernised. In 2003-2007, Investkinoproekt (Invest Cinema Project) intends to open up to 30 multiplexes in various regional centres. The Cinema Park company is already implementing a plan to construct 20 multiplexes in Moscow, St Petersburg, southern cities - Krasnodar and Rostov-on-Don, Nizhny Novgorod and Kazan in the Volga area - and Krasnoyarsk and Novosibirsk in Siberia. These are ambitious projects. However, the question is: will the new cinemas be able to attract audiences over the age 35? In Soviet times, this age group were regular cinemagoers, seeing an average of 19 films a year. Now the figure for the country is 0.3, and this is only due to young people's enthusiasm. Older viewers are rarely interested in Hollywood blockbusters, while the Russian films they feel nostalgic about will not be able to sell well enough in the next three to four years. Mosfilm is currently working on a hundred projects a year, and other film studios have recovered. In 2003, 75 movies were released, which is seven more than in 2002. In the past few years, Russian films - The Return directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev, House of Fools by Andrei Konchalovsky, The Lover by Valery Todorovsky, The War by Alexei Balabanov - received a number of awards at international festivals. Talented directors are shooting new films for young people. The US press has already written about Peter Buslov, 28, the director of Bimmer. Andrei Proshkin, 34, who brought audiences the Games of Moths, has attracted the attention of the European press. Even non-profitable movies for children are making a comeback. Moreover, the number of film festivals is growing in Russia. However, the problem is that the country's cinemagoers hardly see Russian films on the wide screen, as they account only for 16% of the total films shown. Domestic-made films are not very popular with distributors: quite often, the deadline of their release is extended (due to financial problems). Therefore, distributors prefer to screen Hollywood films, which are generally on time. Nor is there a state-run chain of cinemas to show Russian features. Besides, external factors are not the only things standing in the way of the Russian cinematography. "I think Russian films still do not have an image, unlike Soviet films," says Karen Shakhnazarov. "They were based on humanism, imagery, interest in the human psyche. Soviet cinematography developed in Russian cultural traditions. It could be described as a phenomenon. I cannot say the same about Russian films yet." "Our films today are somewhat vague. I see no characters whose example I would like to follow," a cinemagoer and student Igor writes in an Internet forum. "The problems are often fictional, and situations have nothing to do with real life," another Internet-user who calls himself Rainman agrees. "Nearly all the foreign TV series have already been replaced with Russian TV products," notes Daniil Dondurei, a famous art expert and sociologist who heads the Iskusstvo Kino (Cinema Art) magazine. "But our series feature no people of new professions, no signs of the new life, or present-day problems. Our leading directors, with very few exceptions, have not shot any remarkable films about modern life." The Russian film industry is still looking for ideas, and seven major cinema chains have already merged into the non-commercial partnership, Kinoalians (Cinema Alliance), which will inevitably lobby not only the interests of distributors but also foreign producers.
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