Russian filmmakers to create ethics code this summer

Many directors believe that there will no censorship in the charter, and only moral self-restraint. Source: PhotoXpress

Many directors believe that there will no censorship in the charter, and only moral self-restraint. Source: PhotoXpress

This summer, at the initiative of the Union of Cinematographers of Russia, representatives of the film industry began to develop a charter of filmmaking ethics. What exactly is this: an attempt to stem the flow of violence on the screen, or a tool for censorship?

In November 2011, then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin suggested to filmmakers that they create a code of ethics. For an example, Putin gave them the "Hays Code of Ethics," which was enforced in Hollywood between the 1930s and the 1960s.

By the end of June 2011, the president of the Union of Cinematographers of Russia, film director Nikita Mikhalkov, had responded to the offer and initiated the creation of an ethics charter for the film industry.

"Such a code based on common sense and the good will of filmmakers relieves tension in the discussion on the admissibility of the demonstration of violence and harsh scenes in cinema," says Renat Davletyarov, president of the Producers Guild.

Yet well-known film director Karen Shakhnazarov is more cautious in his statements: "It is possible to talk about the benefits of the charter for the Russian cinema only if you know how it is composed." Shakhnazarov confidently believes that there will no censorship in the charter, and only moral self-restraint.

Shakhnazarov, who is also the director of Russia's largest film studio, Mosfilm, joined the working group of the charter’s developers. In addition to him, the working group includes the patriarch of Russian intellectual cinema, Marlene Hutsiev, documentary filmmaker Sergei Miroshnichenko, prominent film and cultural studies critic Cyril Razlogov, and other practitioners and theorists.

"Americans had a similar charter, but it was canceled in the ‘60s, and it was ridiculed by the whole world," says film director Andrei Proshkin.

The “Hays Code” (officially the Motion Picture Production Code) was adopted in the U.S. in 1930 by The Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors of America. By the code, films could not portray crime and vices in any manner that evoked sympathy: It was impossible to mock the law, portray drug use, show naked bodies, treat religion without due respect, etc.

The code was not meant to be a form of censorship, but, because it was adopted by all the leading Hollywood studios, the chances of a film in violation of the code making it into theatres were slim. By the 1960s, enforcement of the Hays Code came to an end, and Hollywood took to the free spirit of European cinema—particularly, French "new wave" and Italian neo-realism.

However, Sergei Shestakov, a film historian, asserts that absolute freedom leads to the display of any form of violence, sex, and crude expression on the silver screen. He believes self-regulation of the industry is needed, rather than government regulation. "When such is the promise of Prime Minister [Vladimir Putin], it looks like the government is strong-arming the industry. Implementing a top-down [approach] incorrectly will cause rejection."

In addition to the Hays Code, many of the charter participants recall the "Moral Code of the Builder of Communism" from the Soviet era—a set of principles on communist morality, designed in 1961 for Communist Party workers. There were many items in the code, the most famous of which was a popular expression: "He who does not work shall not eat."

In 2011—the same year Putin first started discussing an ethics charter for filmmakers—the then prime minister said, "We have lost certain values ​​of the Soviet period… But, if we look at this ‘Moral Code of the Builder of Communism,’ it is actually excerpts from the Bible, and mankind has not come up with anything new.”

The fashion for moral constraints has penetrated other industries, as well. In the Russian State Duma, members the ruling United Russia party have recently proposed the creation of conditions for combining self-regulatory organizations for the media. These organizations, according to deputies, will develop standards of journalism, a code of ethics, and rules of editorial policy.

As for filmmakers, they are continuing work on their ethics charter. According to Mikhalkov, it will be developed by the end of this summer.

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