Russian studio heads protest gov’t overhaul

Execs worried about losing film library revs

MOSCOW — Planned reform of Russia’s film studio system is looking rocky after toppers at two key facilities, St. Petersburg’s Lenfilm and Moscow’s Gorky studios, announced they are resigning rather than implement government proposals.

Gorky director Vladimir Grammatikov, a veteran kids film director, revealed Monday that he had been dismissed from his post by Russia’s culture ministry.

Earlier this month, Lenfilm chief Victor Sergeev tendered his resignation, claiming that he wanted to return to being an independent producer.

Both are reacting against moves to push Russia’s studio system towards privatization. The duo are not against the idea behind the proposals, first outlined in a decree from Russian president Vladimir Putin in April 2001, but against the process involved.

The plan is to split each studio into two entities, one of which will control the studio’s material assets – including property, buildings and equipment – and another which will hold all rights to pics made by the outfits before 1992.

While stakes in the first body will be offered to private investors, the potentially lucrative film collections will not be sold but may be transferred into a separate federal org.

Given the realities of local state funding – Lenfilm received a mere 1.3 million rubles ($40,000) from state coffers in 2001, according to Sergeev – the two studio heads are protesting what they believe will prove fatal to their respective outfits.

Both sold 10-year broadcast rights to their libraries to Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most holding in 1998, netting Lenfilm a total of $7 million.

Sergeev has detailed where the money was spent, including a new sound studio and the production of studio-backed films which include festival winners from St. Petersburg’s renowned arthouse helmer, Alexander Sokurov (“Taurus,” “Moloch”).

The government plans are also an issue for Russia’s largest studio, Mosfilm, although its topper Karen Shakhnazarov has been promised that nothing will change there until the result of Lenfilm and Gorky’s restructuring becomes clearer.

Unlike the other studios, Mosfilm can cover its operating costs, as well as back a small slate of feature projects each year, from renting out its studio space to TV and advertising projects. As a result, it would not be threatened with bankruptcy even if it lost its library.

“Mosfilm’s collapse would be a catastrophe for the Russian film industry,” Shakhnazarov said. “We need to wait and see how the process goes, say, at Gorky Studios. We will be the first to say ‘go ahead with privatization’ if we see that Gorky starts to flourish as a result.”

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