A taste for home movies

Following the end of censorship in the cinema in the late 1980s, Russia's system of film making, production, and distribution collapsed. Everything had to be rebuilt from scratch. For the outside world, Russia remained a country of read film makers, but the choice of names that were feted seemed to be chosen at random. Pavel Lungin received laurels (Best Director at Cannes, 1990) while popular crime thriller maker Alexei Balabanov was neglected; Alexander Sokurov was hailed as the new Tarkovsky but Kira Muratova, 2007 winner of the Best Film in the CIS, was largely ignored. On the whole Russians could not care less about art-house films. These are seen as a product for export, an aesthetic and political bow to foreign tastes. Abroad, box-office receipts from Alexander Sokurov's "Russian Ark" - famous for being the world's first unedited feature film - topped $6m, while in Russia they amounted to a several hundred thousand at most. Andrei Zvyagintsev's "The Banishment" caused turmoil in Europe but was heavily criticised at home. Russia's main national priority has been to produce commercial films. Hollywood is viewed as an example and a rival; making a blockbuster is seen as attaining perfection. Timur Bekmambetov's "Night Watch", in 2004, was the first Russian blockbuster and the industry drew many conclusions from its success. Patriotism clearly played a key role. In a Russianmade film, both public and critics have been willing to overlook shortcomings they would not tolerate in a foreign picture. Television has played an important part. The big channels produced and promoted "Night Watch" and other blockbusters including "The Turkish Gambit", "The State Counselor" and "The Ninth Company". These big films are like dinosaurs -enormous, awkward creatures. But an Ice Age is beginning and they are becoming extinct, superseded by low-budget movies for the masses. The audience is also growing accustomed to novel genres, from comedy to horror, and the country is again taking part in film festivals at Cannes, Berlin and Venice. About a third of all new motion pictures are made by first-time directors. Along with inheriting the techniques of Soviet art-house films (Alexei German Jr and Ilya Khrzhanovsky), these young cineastes (Boris Khlebkinov and Alexei Popogrebsky) are learning from their European colleagues In all likelihood, in around 10 years, the ice will have melted, and Russian cinema will for the first time gain equal footing with Europe and the rest of the world.

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