Monday, 16 April 2012

Lenfilm on the rocks

Cinema has a prominent place in Russian history. As icons and frescoes communicated stories and lessons of the Orthodox Church to largely illiterate worshippers before the revolution, so film presented the ideology of the Soviet government to its citizens as the new technology was harnessed for the purposes of political propaganda.

At the core of the rising art form were the storied film studios Lenfilm and its slightly younger Muscovite brother, Mosfilm. Lenfilm – founded on the basis of pre-revolutionary studios in Petrograd in 1918, finally adopting its current name in 1934 – is now facing its most difficult period, on the edge of financial collapse. Its governing body, the social council, says 2 billion rubles ($136 million) are needed to put the state-controlled studio back on its feet. While rescue plans are under discussion, the debates are taking a sharp tone as struggles between creativity and profitability grow more acrid.

“These rooms were all occupied back in the studio’s heyday,” a Lenfilm spokeswoman said, walking past empty offices. “The crew of each film had its own room, a workplace for a director and his team.”

The greatness and genius of old Russian and Soviet cinema is still felt at Lenfilm, with its old-fashioned interior and dedicated people.

“If you had come here before everything started to fall apart, things would be humming,” film director Vyacheslav Sorokin said. “There would have been a lot of actors, crew, and directors here.”

The studio’s financial decline, however, has led to the departure of many artists and crew, either to private film companies or to other careers. Having produced many famous, award-winning films such as “Chapayev” and “The Amphibian Man,” and the 1980s television series “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson,” Lenfilm now has four projects on hold due to lack of personnel and a lack of money to pay them. Controversial plans Plans to revive Lenfilm are not lacking, but instead of yielding positive results, they have simply caused more controversy. Studio veterans have greeted the prospect of a public-private partnership with suspicion, since they fear private financing would mean moving the soundstages outside the city and incorporating Lenfilm inside a larger private production company.

Members of the social council, including Sorokin, the director Alexei German, Sr., and the screenwriter Svetlana Karmalita, among others, consider that the only interest of potential investors is the valuable land the studio occupies in the center of St. Petersburg, nearly 3 hectares.

The investment company Sistema is among those who have offered their assistance, but unsuccessfully, due to opposition from the council. Sistema declined to comment, but a source familiar with the discussions told The Moscow News that the company is waiting to see what develops, and has not ruled out the possibility of future participation in the project. For Sistema and other potential investors, only a combination of private and state funding can rescue the studio. ...

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