Russian Cinema: ‘Issue’ Pictures Earn Acclaim Abroad

Government funding remains scarce for socially-conscious films

While President Vladimir Putin has been cracking down on opposition to his rule within Russia and across its borders, a small band of Russian arthouse filmmakers have been taking a critical look at his Russia, and winning the approval of festival juries,
film critics and distributors abroad for their work.

Among the recent successes are Yury Bykov’s “The Fool,” which won lead actor for Artem Bystrov’s perf at Locarno, and Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Leviathan,” which took the screenplay award at Cannes. Both pics tackle corruption and the lack of justice head-on, while being watchable enough to attract international buyers.

The Fool” is the latest pic from St. Petersburg’s Rock Films. The company previously produced Bykov’s “The Major,” which played in Cannes and Toronto, and Alexey Uchitel’s “Break Loose,” which premiered in Toronto.

Uchitel, Rock Films’ CEO, says those festival successes and the rise of new directors give cause for hope, but he strikes a note of caution: Such issues-oriented films often struggle for funding.

Russian cinema is very dependent on state support,” he says. “The main weakness is the lack of films co-produced with Europe or the States. There’s no integration, and it concerns me a lot — it’s one of the reasons our films fail to get onto the big screen.”

Next up for Uchitel is a period drama about the ballerina Mathilde Kschessinskaya, who was the first love of Czar Nicholas II. The pic is shooting at historic locations in St. Petersburg and Moscow. “It’s a tremendous project with fantastic artists; a big challenging work,” he says.

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