You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Russia Culture Ministry abruptly takes over film funding

International co-productions will likely suffer in favor of domestic product

The future of state funding in Russia for international co-productions is unclear after a major shake-up in state support for film was ordered by the Kremlin.

The functions of the Russian Cinema Fund, set up in 2009 with an annual budget of around $170 million, to channel government support to a key group of major production companies, increase opportunities for international co-production and promote Russian films overseas, are to be taken over by the culture ministry.

The sudden change was announced Thursday after a meeting chaired by deputy prime minister Vladislav Surkov — a former Putin chief of staff and widely considered the Kremlin’s main ideologue.

The move comes just as the system was beginning to find favor with producers across Europe keen on making movies with Russian partners, and it was met with dismay within the Russian film industry.

“The fund as it functioned in the past two years will no longer exist. It is all really bad,” one Moscow-based producer who has been involved in a range of European co-productions, told Variety, adding that he feared international activities of the fund will be dismantled.

Popular on Variety

Surkov said Thursday that the changes — which bring the hitherto semi-autonomous fund fully under the control of the Ministry of Culture — are designed to optimize public spending on film and increase exposure for Russian films at the domestic box office. In the future the Cinema Fund will focus on supporting commercial cinema, with other films financed jointly with the culture ministry.But comments made before Thursday’s announcement by Vladimir Medinsky, Russia’s minister of culture, suggest that co-production coin may be a victim of the new system.

Medinsky insisted that Russian state money should go to approved projects and that coin should be spent within Russia.

“If a film is a commercial product, you can make whatever film you want — we do not have censorship,” Medinsky told Variety.

“If you want money from the state we have to know what is in that film, what it is about.”

The changes — details of which are expected to be made public in December, also throw into question co-production and co-development agreements established between Russia, France, Germany and Italy in the past two years.

“For us and all other foreigners it is very important to have a reliable partner in Russia. And this was the Cinema Fund, so now there are a lot of questions for us,” said Simone Baumann, a Leipzig, Germany-based producer who represents German Films, the German film promotion body that also supports co-productions, in Eastern Europe.

Although differences in approach and attitude between the Ministry of Culture — which for the past three years has been responsible for funding films deemed of national or social importance — and the Cinema Fund had been evident for a while, many were surprised by the speed with which the decision was made.

Rumors that culture minister Vladimir Medinsky — appointed by President Vladimir Putin in May — was moving to wrest control of the money and resources wielded by the Cinema Fund began circulating in mid-November.

Producers and directors with projects that had been greenlit for funding suddenly found bank transfers on hold and their calls going unanswered.

Sergey Tolstikov, a former businessman who spent five years working in Los Angeles before being brought into head the fund, was said to have incurred Medinsky’s wrath after refusing to fund ideologically slanted projects, including one featuring a love story set in the Winter Olympics 2014 village currently under construction in Sochi, southern Russia.

“Surkov is behind all the changes, and he is planning to take full control of state-funded film production in Russia,” one Moscow industry insider told Variety.

“Surkov and Medinsky are very much in favor of quotas for Russian films, and Tolstikov strongly opposed that. They want to produce big ‘patriotic’ films and are paranoid that big bad Hollywood won’t give them space in theaters without quotas.”

At last week’s meeting where the decision to introduce the changes in January was unveiled, the lack of theatrical success for Russian films was highlighted.

Surkov said that millions of dollars have been spent on publicly financed films but the share of Russian box office among the major Russian production companies, which share a fixed annual pot of funding worth $60 million, has fallen from 8.7% in 2010 to 7.5% this year.

It was unclear whether Tolstikov would remain head of the Cinema Fund after a request for comment went unanswered.

More Film

  • Liselott Forsman

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond CEO Liselott Forsman on 2020, a Record Budget, Growth

    The Nordisk Film & TV Fond is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a new CEO at the helm: Writer, producer and chair of the EBU Fiction Expert Group Liselott Forsman. This week, the executive heads to the Göteborg Film Festival as one of the event’s key figures. There, she will preside the Nordisk Film & [...]

  • 'Surge' Review: Ben Whishaw Wigs Out

    'Surge': Film Review

    There’s mannered, there’s manic, and then there’s the malfunctioning pinball-machine delirium that Ben Whishaw brings to “Surge”: a blinking, buzzing, flashing clatter of hyper-accelerated impulses, chicken-fried synapses and staggered hypnic jerks that never culminate in sleep. You wouldn’t expect stillness from a film called “Surge,” and in that respect only does Whishaw zig where you [...]

  • SF Studios Joins Forces With REinvent

    Scandi Powerhouse SF Studios Teams With Rikke Ennis's REinvent For Int'l Sales (EXCLUSIVE)

    SF Studios, the Scandinavian production and distribution powerhouse, has struck an exclusive partnership with REinvent Studios, the banner launched by TrustNordisk’s former CEO Rikke Ennis. As part of the deal, REinvent will handle international sales for all SF Studios content, including films, TV series and catalogue titles. This new deal expands the existing relationship between [...]

  • VFX Studio Framestore Launches Suite of

    VFX, Animation Studio Framestore Launches Pre-Production Services Unit (EXCLUSIVE)

    Visual effects and animation studio Framestore, which won Oscars for “The Golden Compass,” “Gravity” and “Blade Runner 2049,” and whose recent work includes “Avengers: Endgame” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home” in movies, and “His Dark Materials” and “Watchmen” in TV, has launched FPS, which offers a suite of pre-production services. The move sees the company’s [...]

  • Tesla

    'Tesla': Film Review

    Inventor Nikolai Tesla is more popular today than when he died penniless in a New York hotel in 1943. Back then, he was the futurist who swore he could summon unlimited, clean, wireless electromagnetic energy from the earth — a neat idea, but surely coal and oil were fine. In the 21st century, as temperatures [...]

  • Amulet

    'Amulet': Film Review

    Actress Romola Garai makes a distinctive feature directorial debut with “Amulet,” even if this upscale horror drama is ultimately more impressive in the realm of style than substance. It’s some style, though: She hasn’t just created a stylish potboiler, but a densely textured piece that makes for a truly arresting viewing experience to a point. [...]

  • Alison Brie appears in Horse Girl

    'Horse Girl': Film Review

    A funny thing happens about a third of the way into “Horse Girl,” Jeff Baena’s fourth Sundance feature after “Life After Beth,” “Joshy” and “The Little Hours.” Or rather, a funny thing stops happening: the familiar, steady-heartbeat rhythms of the low-budget social awkwardness comedy become erratic, tachycardiac, as the initially endearing foibles of the film’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content