Kids, patriotic works get priority

MOSCOW — Russia has pledged a 50% increase in state funds for the country’s film industry for 2003 in a bid to jumpstart the production scene.

Next year, the allocation for cinema will rise to 1.5 billion rubles ($47.6 million) in the first stage of a three-year plan put forward by territory’s culture minister, Mikhail Shvydkoi.

By the end of 2003, Shvydkoi hopes that local production will rise to more than 100 features from its current level of 60 to 70 annually. Similar increases are planned for animation and documentary sectors.

Approved by the Russian Cabinet on Thursday, the proposals have to pass through Parliament. They are part of a general culture budget, which has been increased by 34% over 2002.

Initial increase

The move follows a similar increase introduced at the beginning of this year, when the abolition of tax incentives for investment threatened to reduce Russia’s production plans. The previous subsidies were widely perceived to be subject to manipulation, whereby only a small portion of funds written off against taxes actually reached the budgets of the produc-tions given backing.

Priorities for state support will be children’s films as well as works of patriotic, national or historical importance.

One first positive step will come when the Culture Ministry sets up a subsidiary agency with greater authority to control production on state-backed projects, as well as recoup B.O. revenue in proportion to any initial public investment.

With cinema high on government priorities, both Russian President Vladimir Putin and his prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, have called for local product to have a stronger presence on the country’s exhibition scene.

Announcing next year’s support, Kasyanov said he hoped that the share of Russian product at local B.O. will rise to 20% by 2006. Given that current share fluctuates between around 3% (in Moscow) and 5% to 7% (around the country), many see the goal as wildly optimistic.

However, for now, the introduction of quotas on foreign product in the market remains unlikely. Although prominent local figures such as state studio Mosfilm director Karen Shakhnazarov and Filmmakers’ Union prexy Nikita Mikhalkov have advocated such moves, Shvydkoi has always been a determined opponent.

Quality questions

Given the weakness of much current local product, the plan to spend more government coin is questionable. As one critic commented earlier this year: “It would take a kamikaze distributor to take a risk on the majority of films shown at Kinotavr (Russia’s national film festival).”

Though B.O. results for local films are up this year, the increase is only a product of new theaters opening.

The two top local grossers this year, WWII drama “Star” and Chech-nya-set “War,” have both earned around $800,000, putting them at the bottom end of Russia’s top 20 B.O. rankings. “Star,” produced by Mosfilm, went out on a hefty 80 copies around the country and was timed to mark May’s Victory Day celebrations but fell badly short on advertising.

By contrast, “War,” made by Russia’s top indie producer, CTV, was fi-nanced entirely by private coin — leaving serious questions as to whether more state funding, rather than the emergence of a new generation of more clued-in producers, is really the way to persuade local auds to support local product.

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