Minsk Menu: 5 Pics For $10

Blintzes in Byelorussia are hardly croissants on the Croisette. But then, the All-Union Film Market in Minsk is a long way from Cannes.

The skyline of this Byelorussian capital is dominated by grim, slab-like apartment buildings erected since the city was razed during World War II. A digital display flashes, in glowing green numerals, the time, temperature and radiation level. Minsk, after all, is less than 200 miles from nuclear disaster site Chernobyl.

While the April 21 to 28 film market may not be set in the Russian Riviera, there is a certain attraction to doing deals at the bar of the downtown Moscow Cinema, where the coffee costs 2 &cents; and high-rollers nibble on caviar sandwiches – at 20 &cents; the most expensive item on the menu.

Even the deals come cheap: You could pick up a five-pic package for less than $10.

Since Moscow stopped making all sales decisions regarding films two years ago, anyone can hold a film market in the USSR. The biggest of new markets, held every three months in a different Soviet city, is the All-Union.

Market director Leonid Veraska, who reps former state film producer Goskino at international fests, says his mission is to get producers and distributors together to buy, sell and make contacts. Veraska himself is compiling data on the Soviet industry – demographics, distribution patterns and boxoffice figures – that his bureau makes available to participants.

One of the biggest surprises at the market was the sheer amount of info available in a country which generally lacks not only computers but even paper.

Western style lay of the land

The market, in the 1,017-seat Moscow Cinema, was organized Western style. Distribs browsed through stands and picked up fliers on product. Out of some 100 market pics, more than half were U.S. product, ranging from “Prizzi’s Honor” to “Night Porter” to action and genre pics. U.S. fare now accounts for up to 90% of b.o. here.

French films were represented largely by older titles toplining Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Belmondo. The USSR, India, Central Europe and Pakistan also were represented.

More than 400 film organizations – all Soviet – participated, including 50 independent sellers and 112 indie distribs. Buyers included reps from both the army and the KGB.

Veraska declined to reveal the going rates for product, but said Goskino was peddling the rights to five Soviet-made features for 50 rubles (less than $2) apiece under the motto “art should not be sold.” One can only assume that Yank pics command slightly more, since the cost of market registration (which includes room, board and two hours of screening time) is 6,000 rubles.

This was the 10th All-Union market in two years. Each market is held in a different Soviet city to allow for as much participation from local independents as possible.

Of 300 features produced last year in the USSR, according to Goskino figures released last week, 277 of them were indie productions. The head of the local staterun Byeloruss Film Studio said independent films now account for 80% of the studio’s volume.

Market socializing was primarily confined to hardcore consumption of vodka, cognac and champagne in the rooms of the lively Yebileinaya Hotel which, in addition to housing market participants, was playing host to 21 rock bands in town for a Live Aid concert to benefit Chernobyl victims (see page 104). At the market’s opening ceremonies, a check for 100,000 rubles was donated to the cause.

Entertainment was strictly of the nonfilm variety. A broad assortment of folk dancers, singers and comedians performed for the market crowd.

What the future holds for the All-Union Film Market is hard to predict. Pending legislation in the Soviet Union would halve the number of foreign pics allowed on Soviet screens. (Last week’s big draw in Minsk’s Central Cinema was the USSR’s first Bond pic – “Never Say Never Again.”)

But will Russians pay to see films produced by indies in their own country, or will they watch pirated Yank pics on video, which are shown publicly? If they opt for the latter, Soviet production could dry up as private investors, currently the major source of indie financing in the USSR, get burned and pull out.

And economic upheaval is threatening to send production into a tailspin, especially if the number of imports is restricted. The reinvestment of distribution profits into production by the independents is the second-biggest source of production coin here.

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