Saving a film studio

On April 30, Lenfilm, one of the oldest film studios in Russia, turned 92. Once known as a “dream factory,” the studio has suffered during the economic downturn and the loss of a series of projects led to increasing rumors that it might be soon be sold to foreign buyers.
Vyacheslav Telnov, Lenfilm’s director, recently rebutted these reports with and announcement that in time the studio would form the foundation of one of the biggest studios in Europe—with the financial support of Sistema.

For many Lenfilm enthusiasts, this is a positive development. The studio has been called a national treasure and the pride of Russian cinematography. The history of the studio is also the history of Russian film. The first public film screening in the country took place on May 4, 1896 at the Aquarium Theater; in 1918, this building was converted into the first Soviet film studio, which was renamed Lenfilm in 1932.

During its long existence, more than 1,500 fiction, documentary and television films have been shot at Lenfilm. Many of them have become classics of world cinema, such as “Baltic Deputy,” “Peter the Great” and “Khrustalyov, My Car.”

Some of the biggest names in Russian cinema along with foreign stars have worked at the studio at various times: Grigory Kozintsev, Iosif Kheifits, Vladimir Petrov and Ilya Averbakh; Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Fonda, Ava Gardner, Franco Nero and Michael Caine.

Vladimir Yevtushenkov, chairman of the Sistema Board of Directors, said his company has already begun supporting the studio.

“In the first stage, Sistema is allocating between $10 and 15 million to bring the current operation up to scratch. The second stage is to draw up a plan for comprehensive restructuring. Exactly what there will be on the studio site is still to be decided. But it is absolutely clear that it will relate to Lenfilm and to its creative work,” Yevtushenkov said.

Unlike Lenfilm fans, many of the film studio’s staff were initially skeptical about the Sistema deal.

Telnov admitted that studio employees took a while to accept the agreement.

“There were some difficult negotiations,” said Telnov. “But after the last meeting many apprehensions were dispelled. People understood that the film studio was going to be developed but that no one was going to buy it or turn it into a business centre or build a hotel on the site. We were promised that it would develop as a film production structure.”

While it is still too early to talk about a timetable for the changes, in June, government agencies will draw up legislative measures for the creation of public-private partnerships. This legislation should guide the Lenfilm-Sistema deal in the future.

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