It's unclear if heat, smoke are taking toll on ticket sales

The air has been unbreathable, the temperatures unbearable and the seasonal death rates double the norm, but life in Russia’s beleaguered capital goes on this hot, smoggy August.

With central Russia suffering under its worst-ever heat wave — climatologists say in a thousand years of recorded history there has never before been such a combination of heat, wildfires and dense smoky smog — Moscow has become a hell on earth. A typical scene in Moscow last week featured brides and grooms on a smoky Red Square posing for traditional post-nuptial photos in all their finery as tourists in face masks vainly tried to make out nearby landmarks.

But summer movies are a constant, and a hoped-for relief from Mother Nature. Sylvester Stallone’s action adventure “The Expendables” opened in cinemas across the country Aug. 12, and Harald Zwart’s family hit “The Karate Kid” bows Aug. 19.

It’s unclear so far whether the extreme heat and smog have had any impact on cinema attendance.

Alexander Semenov, publisher of Russian Film Business Today, a weekly trade journal, says he believes the weather is keeping viewers away.

Semenov estimates box office could be down by around 25%.

“We are sure the smog has had a bad impact on our box office,” he says. “More people prefer staying at home because of the bad air conditioning in our cinemas. Most of the theaters’ management are saving electricity (by turning it down). Isn’t that ridiculous?”

Not surprisingly, cinema operators deny they are doing anything of the sort.

“Our cinemas have been opened for the entire period. We, of course, never would turn down the air conditioning,”says Paul Heth, who runs the Kino Star circuit. “We have worked hard to make sure our cinemas provide a respite and relief for our patrons from the terribly hot weather.”

Heth, who also produces films through Sony-partnered company Monumental Pictures, adds that with “a bit of ingenuity and hard work from our production team” the company has kept to the shooting schedules of its two current movies, “Thank God I’m Alive,” a biopic on Soviet-era singer Vladimir Vysotsky and a 3D sequel in the “Very Best Movie” franchise.

Leonid Ogorodnikov, chairman of Karo Film, which runs 31 multiplexes, says that regardless of the current weather woes, cinema attendance tends to dip in the summer, when many people take vacations.

“The current period does not have a great number of blockbusters,” he says. “Despite this we are not experiencing serious problems with attendance — it remains at the same period (as) last year. People enjoy being immersed in a cool cinema after being in the hot, smoke-filled air.”

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