Putin gets some direction

Longtime helmer signs on as advisor to Russian leader's campaign

MOSCOW — Politics and film are never far apart in Russia. And while, unlike the U.S., the country has not yet had a former actor as president, prime minister Vladimir Putin is putting a film director at the center of his third presidential bid.

Stanislav Govorukhin, a 75-year-old film veteran, has been named head of Putin’s presidential campaign.

The Putin loyalist — whose career highlights include making the 1979 TV detective series “Mesto vstrechi izmenit nelzya” (The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed) starring anti-establishment singer-songwriter-actor Vladimir Vysotsky — turned to politics after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Although the involvement of an elderly filmmaker in a re-election campaign may appear strange to Western eyes, Govorukhin’s credentials in Russia are well established.

The self-declared democrat, who flirted with nationalist Communism in the 1990s, lost a son in the first Chechen war, and once opposed Putin, is a member of Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, for Putin’s United Russia party.

Govorukhin isn’t the only director to take to politics. Nikita Mikhalkov, another well-known Russian director (1995’s Stalin-era fable “Burnt by the Sun”) stumped for Boris Yeltsin in the 1996 presidential race, appearing in a TV commercial as an astronaut for the candidate. He, like Govorukhin, has since shifted to the right-wing nationalists.

As a director, Govorukhin had a populist touch with detective or adventure films championing strong male characters who seek to right wrongs while operating outside social norms. His support of Putin seems to be consistent with his earlier artistic inclinations.

But there’s now a question as to whether he’s also consistent with today’s Russian zeitgeist. Fifty thousand people in Moscow took to the streets Dec. 10 to demand a re-vote of recent parliamentary elections denounced as rigged by independent observers. More demonstrations occurred Christmas eve, when as many as an estimated 120,000 people braved sub-zero temperatures in Moscow to demand that he step down — an occurrence that has clearly shaken the Kremlin.

Putin — who plans to run for his third term as president in March — said Dec. 27 that measures needed to be taken to make that election free, fair and transparent. That is unlikely to satisfy protesters, although their influence is largely confined to Moscow and other large cities.

Nevertheless, even a filmmaker as experienced as Govorukhin clearly has his work cut out for him.