Upon learning of Hollywood’s suspension of the distribution of her films in Russia in response to the “unreasonable” military intervention in Ukraine, Muscovite Mila Grekova “immediately knew who the death knell was ringing for.”
Grekova, a translator of American films, was left without work after the decision of five Hollywood giants – Disney, Universal, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros. and Paramount to remove their productions from the Russian calendar.
She still wonders about the purpose of the sanctions: “Today I hate the West, not (Vladimir) Putin, their purpose.”
“Here, Bollywood can replace Hollywood, but it’s too late for me to learn Hindi,” the 56-year-old translator says frustratedly, reacting to the idea of replacing American titles with Indian films mentioned in Russia.
In addition to him, the entire Russian film industry is suffering from the consequences of the conflict in Ukraine, when it was barely recovering from the new coronavirus pandemic.
The fate of the film industry this time depends on sanctions, and Russia was the leading European film market last year with 145.7 million admissions, according to the European Audiovisual Observatory.
– Asian movies? –
Prior to the suspension imposed by Hollywood, the Russian company Mosfilm-master provided voice-overs for ten foreign films per month.
“Today we have lost two-thirds of the orders,” laments its director Yevgeny Belin, who hosts AFP at the powerful Mosfilm film studio.
“During the pandemic, we had films, but cinemas did not work. Today we have our own cinemas, but no films,” he sums up.
The country could close half of its cinemas because they risk “losing up to 80% of revenue” after Hollywood’s exit, the Russian Association of Cinema Owners warned in early March.
To adapt and survive, Mosfilmmaster is preparing to hire Korean and Chinese translators, even if its director is “doubtful that Asian films are suitable for Russians” due to cultural differences.
“It’s not always easy,” says this 70-year-old specialist, including “30 in dub.” “Westerners are closer to us.”
– “Explore yourself” –
“The situation is extremely difficult, but not catastrophic,” wants, however, to introduce 37-year-old Olga Zinyakova, president of one of the four largest Russian cinema chains, Karo.
“Since the arrival of Hollywood in Russia, 30 years ago, we have experienced many crises: political, economic, pandemics…,” she says.
Since the beginning of the offensive in Ukraine on February 24, the number of visits to its 35 theaters has fallen by 70%, and the average price of a seat (300 rubles, or about three euros) has not changed for five years.
The state has already promised to double financial support for film production and minimize the tax burden, as well as the cost of renting premises, rejoices the president of the network, which seems quite small in the huge red October hall, one of the largest in Europe with its 1,500 seats, is now empty.
Deprived of American blockbusters, Russians “will explore themselves more deeply,” but hopefully Olga Zinyakova, citing the success of the 1990s cult Russian film Brat, has returned to l’attach.
His network is also gearing up to release Asian and Latin American films.
“And when Hollywood returns here, the Russian market and the audience will not be the same,” she predicts.
– “Hostage” of politics –
The departure of the Hollywood giants did not surprise 44-year-old Pavel Doreuli, whose Atmosphere studio creates soundscapes for about fifteen films a year.
“World cinema has been hostage to big politics for years,” said this sound engineer, a member since 2020 of the international organization Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE).
“Cannes or Berlin no longer reward films, but their position,” he says, referring to the two international film festivals that have denounced Russia for its offensive against Ukraine.
“Deprived of international festivals, Russians will abandon auteur cinema, which offers a different vision of the world, so valuable today,” he predicts.