Although the devaluation of Russia’s ruble has been playing havoc with balance sheets over the past several months, the market remains a robust one for Hollywood. Is that status in danger — again? The studios dodged a bullet at the end of last year when a plan for imposing quotas that would have cut the current number of Hollywood films in Russian theaters by half died in the Duma. But now, Russia’s Ministry of Culture has been granted new powers to change release dates at will in order to give breathing space to local films.
Local media is reporting that Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky held a meeting with distributors on Tuesday evening where he said, “We are only interested in the release of Russian films, especially those produced with the financial participation of the state. It is important that they have a chance to recoup.” Per the reports, if there is a clash of dates for a Russian event film and a Hollywood blockbuster, the release of the studio picture will be changed.
Medinsky said oversight of releases would not mean the Culture Ministry would “fight for every film.” Rather, a priority will be put on “financial, political or ideological” matters. He also called for local distribs to work amongst themselves to ensure they are not stepping on each other’s dates. “If you fail to agree on an amicable solution, we have the interests of the Russian cinema to defend.” If push comes to shove, the Ministry will issue a rolling certificate with a different date, Medinsky said.
Russia failed to have a breakaway blockbuster in 2014 like it did in 2013 with Stalingrad (although the English-language, Universal-released VIY 3D was a Russian hit with $34M), and the government has been looking for ways to protect and aid its homegrown industry. However, it also wants to weed out movies that undermine the country’s “national unity.” Regulations to that effect were due to come into law this year but were delayed, the Moscow Times reported. (Although it deals with corruption at the state level, the Oscar-nominated drama Leviathan was partly financed by the ministry. Still Mendinsky has complained about it and Russians who see the film in theaters are likely to get an edited version with expletives removed following a law that was passed last year to snuff out bad language.)
It remains to be seen how much Medinsky would meddle with the release dates of the studios which help get people out to theaters. Conversely, Hollywood certainly wouldn’t want to lose too much ground here. Russia is a pure play market and a big consumer of studio fare. It’s often among the top ex-U.S. or China markets on tentpole titles and there is still local currency growth while screens are also going up. Worth noting as well that at the end of last year, President Vladimir Putin called the idea for imposing restrictions on foreign films wrong. Whatever his politics, he is seen by some in Hollywood as a supporter, or at least neutral.