Russian toons seek cash infusion

Former state studio looks to revamp ops

Russia’s famous state cartoon film studio Soyuzmultfilm, founded 75 years ago and once a powerhouse of Soviet animation, needs an urgent Kremlin bailout if it is to survive, studio chiefs have told the country’s prime minister Vladimir Putin.

Years of neglect and indifference have left the Moscow-based studios little more than “a box with corridors and rooms” characterized by “grave silence,” said animators from the studio in an open letter to Putin.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago, the studio — famous for cartoon classics such as “The Snow Queen,” “The Golden Antelope” and Russia’s version of Pinocchio, “The Adventures of Buratino” — has lost its “financial, administrative and territorial independence,” they said.

They said the studios needed a cash injection of up to $10 million over the next eight years for a complete modernization program.

Following a government meeting, Putin promised to look into Soyuzmultfilm’s problems.

Moscow-based film industry analysts Movie Research Co., which earlier this year carried out a comprehensive survey of Soyuzmultfilm’s output over the past 75 years and analyzed the current state of the Russian animation industry, says such a makeover is long overdue, and essential if domestic cartooning is to compete with Hollywood imports.

Animation remains highly popular with Russian audiences, MRC says.

Last year, animated features accounted for about 20% of Russia’s $1 billion box office although only one in 13 films in release were animated.

State and private animation studios have produced some 20 films since 2004 with the help of state subsidies that average 70% of budget.

But MRC says state coin has dropped in recent years, falling from around $10 million in 2010 to $7 million this year.

Russian cartoons can compete: “How Not to Rescue a Princess,” produced by St. Petersburg’s Nashe Kino, has notched nearly $20 million at the box office this year. That compares with the nearly $29 million earned this year by “Kung Fu Panda 2.”

But more needs to be done to ensure a product level essential for television and ancillary sales.

Many Russian television companies prefer to buy foreign fare because there is more of it; a ban on advertising during children’s programming slots is also a deterrent to domestic investment.

MRC says government support from the state film fund, the ministry of culture and the press and mass communications ministry need to total around $28 million annually.

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