Русская Версия

The twelfth annual Russian Film Symposium, “From Art-House to Cine-Plex: Russian Cinema’s Search for a Mass Audience,” will be held on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh from Sunday 2 May through Sunday 9 May 2010, with evening screenings at the Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Melwood Screening Room.

The Russian film industry went into acute crisis in the mid-1990s. Annual film production dropped from 300 films a year (early 1990s) to fewer than 50 (1995). Mosfilm Studio rented its stages to western film companies but did not produce its own films. Lenfilm was used as a parking garage. Gorky Studio declared bankruptcy. Annual per capita theatre visits dropped from 16 to 0.25.

Many explanations have been offered to explain this crisis and collapse—the absence of the profession of “producer”; the dilapidated infrastructure; the rise of home-viewing technologies (video, DVD); the use of film production for outright “money laundering.”

For over a decade the Russian film industry survived by catering to two specific venues: international film festivals (in the hope of selling foreign-screening rights) and art-house repertoire theaters (in the hope of generating minimal domestic revenues). In so doing, it virtually ignored the Russian mass market. During this decade, however, several new film production studios were established, genuine producers arrived to take over film financing, massive investment was made in building new cine-plexes equipped with the latest sound and projection technologies. Together with Russia’s oil-driven boom economy and the gradual emergence of a middle-class, attendance at domestic screening venues began to increase sharply. Missing from screens, however, were domestically produced “movies for the masses.”

In 2004, however, the Russian film industry finally began to turn its attention back to the broad domestic market and began to release films for a mass audience. Initially touted as “blockbusters,” these were the first films made in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union that (1) were produced without substantial state funding from the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinema (disbanded in 2008) and (2) actually recouped producers’ financial investments. By 2007, with progressively larger production budgets (which enabled the transition to digital graphic imaging technologies and an increase in the use of special effects) and the greater shift to making genre-driven films (romantic comedies, melodramas, costume dramas, war films, etc.), these “blockbusters” consistently attracted larger audiences than even Hollywood films that premiered in Russia at the same time. This shift forced Hollywood to change its marketing practices: Hollywood-produced films now frequently receive their premiere screenings in Russia prior to their release in the US. And by 2008, Russia became Europe’s fourth biggest market in terms of admissions (123.9 million viewers, a 16% increase over 2007), generated $830 million in box-office revenues (a 47% increase over 2007), and opened 1,864 screens in 736 newly-built or totally refurbished theaters.

Russian Film Symposium 2010 is supported by the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Filmmakers, and a grant from the A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation. University of Pittsburgh sponsors include the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences, the University Center for International Studies, the Center for Russian and East European Studies, the Humanities Center, the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, the Film Studies Program, the Graduate Program for Cultural Studies, the Graduate Russian Kino Club, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, and a grant from the Hewlett Foundation.