Glasnost In Soviet Pic Biz Leads To Rights Confusion

Liberalized USSR foreign sales legislation doesn’t necessarily make it easy for Western distribs do business in perestroika-land.

Glasnost hit the film industry last April, when laws were introduced allowing the USSR’s private studios to conduct business directly with foreigners, bypassing Sovexport, the foreign sales monopoly.

Studios now are allowed to pocket 90% of their hard-currency earnings. That means less money for the state and no money for Sovexport.

Sovexport was a division of Goskino, the umbrella film organization that practically had a monopoly in the Soviet Union but now is on its own.

Free from Goskino

Although indie studios sometimes get partial financing from state-supported Goskino, they no longer are ideologically restricted by or economically dependent on the Big Brother of Soviet cinema. Retaining rights to their own productions is part of the new deal.

Power is hard to relinquish though, and Sovexport, according to sources, is continuing to offer Westerners rights to Soviet productions that they are not authorized to broker – in short, promising what they can’t deliver. While indie studios in the USSR still may allow Sovexport to do their deals, they don’t have to and often fare much better if they don’t.

Oleg Sulkin, Sovexport’s Moscow chief, admits that the legal situation is murky in the USSR and that it could be a year or two until things settle down. He says that the indie studios, lacking business experience, can’t make deals and that simple communication between them and his office could clear up a lot of misunderstandings.

Sovexport just cleared up its argument with Mosfilm over who was going to represent a catalog of 2,000 titles. Sovexport will rep the films at all international markets but has to clear permission for each title with Mosfilm before closing deals.

A similar deal has been set between Sovexport and Fora Film, and another agreement exists with the Assn. of Independent Filmmakers, a consortium of over 100 studios and unions. Sulkin says Sovexport won’t pressure anyone to sign with them.

A recent example of alleged misrepresentation by Sovexport has been over the rights to “Jili Bili Sem Semionov” (Once There Were Seven Simions), a docu that brought home the top prize from October’s Leipzig fest.

Turned Sovexport down

Pic was introduced by indie East Siberian Filmstudio Irkutsk, which declined to allow Sovexport to handle foreign sales.

When the studio sold the world rights to Berlin distribbery Ex Picturis, Goskino’s managing director sent notification of the sale to Sovexport and other Soviet film bodies, per Ex Picturis’ Irinia Knochenhauer, who made the deal with studio topper Alexander Golovanov.

Although the studio has no contract with Sovexport, Sovexport offered the rights to the film to veteran German distrib Theo Hinz’ Futura Film/Filmverlag der Authoren’s Felix division. Felix’ Piet Schroder says the company was interested in picking the property.

Hinz has distributed other Soviet pics in Germany, including “Little Vera” and “The Commissar,” and he says that he’s never had problems with Sovexport.

Vladimir Pushkin, Sovexport’s Bonn office head, who offered the film to Hinz, said that he didn’t know the film belonged to Ex Picturis until he read about it in the German trades. He says that after receiving a cassette from the head office in Moscow he assumed that his firm had the green light to make a deal.

Berlin tides clear

A spokeswoman for the Berlin Sovexport bureau claims that Sovexport holds all the rights for all Soviet films being offered at the European Film Market in Berlin this week.

Experienced buyers in the field recommend contacting all parties and studios listed in a film’s credits and ask who holds the rights, getting something in writing from all concerned.

Sulkin says Sovexport may begin to keep copies of all contracts at fest stands to appease edgy potential buyers. The rights to “Sakat” belong to a Soviet bank, but Sovexport is licensed to handle foreign sales. The bankers also are putting in an appearance in Berlin.

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