Moscow Pitches Cannes Filmmakers Even as Russia-U.S. Tensions Rise

As relations between the U.S. and Russia have deteriorated to nearly Cold War levels, Moscow is launching a charm offensive in the hopes of luring international productions to the capital .

The Moscow Film Commission presented a range of Saturday to promote what it calls “the most famous unknown city in the world.” As part of its pitch, the commission introduced a 400-page production guide with photos highlighting diverse locations, as well as a multimedia project produced by Russian movie support agency Roskino, “Moscow in Motion,” combining photography, film, and augmented reality, along with a smartphone app.

Roskino also announced a comprehensive database of production companies, equipment providers, and English-speaking crews and talent, in an effort to make the city more accessible to foreign producers.

“We want international productions to shoot Moscow in Moscow,” said Roskino CEO Katya Mtsitouridze.

While rebates and other incentives at the federal level remain a work in progress, city officials say Moscow will offer preferential treatment to foreign film crews, including handing out discounts with local production services and equipment rentals, as well as waive location fees in some instances.

The decline in the ruble has also pushed down prices in what was once one of the world’s most expensive cities, with the film commission putting production costs in Moscow on par with Prague and Budapest, both of which field major films and television shows.

After a brief production bump a decade ago, which drew studio productions including “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” and “The Bourne Supremacy,” Moscow began losing out to its Eastern European competitors, according to the film commission’s Svetlana Maximchenko. High costs, bureaucratic logjams and questions about ease of shooting drove many foreign producers away. “Now we want to bring them back,” said Maximchenko.

Those types of Hollywood productions may be hard to attract. Allegations that Russia tried to influence the recent U.S. presidential election have exacerbated tensions between the nations. It could be hard for a major studio to justify spending millions filming action scenes or securing access to Red Square and other fabled monuments when some of that money may indirectly enrich the Vladimir Putin regime.

But it’s not just a question of optics. Foreign producers want to know if they’ll have free rein to lens films critical of the Russian government if they decamp for the streets of Moscow. Earlier this year, the ministry of culture withdrew the screening license for Armando Iannucci’s dark satire “The Death of Stalin,” raising fears of a return to Soviet-era censorship.

When the film’s release date was announced last November, culture minister Vladimir Medinsky dismissed any notion of a ban, saying, “We have freedom of speech,” according to the news agency RIA Novosti. But he reversed course just two months later, insisting the decision wasn’t censorship so much as an effort to draw “moral boundaries.”

Maximchenko, of the film commission, maintained that foreign producers wouldn’t face “any prohibitions” in shooting movies critical of the government. “I believe we could organize it,” she said.

That might be true for foreign productions, but the specter of Russian repression still loomed over the Croisette this week. Director Kirill Serebrennikov, whose biopic of ‘80s Soviet-Korean rock icon Viktor Tsoi, “Leto,” premiered in Cannes last week, is under house arrest in Moscow. Cast members walking the red carpet at the premiere held a placard bearing Serebrennikov’s name, while an empty seat was reserved inside the theater for the acclaimed helmer. Audiences gave a standing ovation before the film began.

“I hope … that the Russian authorities will find a way to [resolve] the situation,” said Mtsitouridze. “He’s a very gifted director. I hope that our president … asks the people responsible for justice in the country to get him free.”

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