Years of seething tensions within the small, tight world of the Russian Filmmakers Union are bursting into the open after the country’s Ministry of Justice ruled illegal a near-unanimous vote in December that sidlelined longtime union head, Oscar-winning director Nikita Mikhalkov and replaced his chosen successor in presidential elections with an octogenarian Soviet-era filmmaker.
The coup just before Christmas left Mikhalkov — who also heads the Moscow Intl. Film Festival and boasts former president Vladimir Putin as a personal friend — shocked and stunned.
Union members — who for the past 11 years had always backed Mikhalkov — voted en-masse against his anointed successor, actor Mikhail Porechenkov. They also refused to back his candidates for the board of the union.
“Mikhalkov was speechless and it was clear he had lost face,” said one union member.
“He could not believe that members from outside of Moscow — from St. Petersburg and the provinces where he thought he had solid support — had voted against him.”
Support for Mikhalkov and his clique had been weakening for some years as union members became disaffected by what they regarded as his autocratic attitude and cavalier approach to union property, which some years ago involved selling part of building that housed Moscow’s revered cinema museum, which subsequently closed.
Attempts to find a younger and equally influential successor to Mikhalkov had foundered after top producer Alexander Rodnyansky declined overtures to stand for election.
In the end the only opposition candidate of sufficient stature was 83-year-old Marlen Khutsiev, who agreed to run for the post Mikhalkov had occupied for 11 years.
But union members who thought that was the end of Mikhalkov’s reign were in for a nasty shock: Last week the Russian Federal Ministry of Justice ruled the vote procedurally flawed and refused to register it legal.
That means a re-election — and time for Mikhalkov’s team to rally their forces.
“Under union regulations we must hold a congress before April 1 as [December’s] congress was found illegal,” Mikhalkov told state news agency Itar-Tass. “I will invite to Moscow not just delegates, but every member of the union.”
That means one thing, one Russian industry inside said: “Mikhalkov and his cronies are used to being on top and is clearly planning a comeback.”