Mosfilm studio turns 100 as Russian cinema plugs gap left by West

The state-owned giant of Soviet and Russian cinema produced classic films such as ‘Battleship Potemkin’ and ‘Solaris’

Alexey PetrovReuters
Published : 29 Jan 2024, 10:29 AM
Updated : 29 Jan 2024, 10:29 AM
  • Mosfilm film studio is celebrating its centenary

  • Studio produced films such as Battleship Potemkin

  • Director general says it is well set up for the future

Mosfilm, the state-owned giant of Soviet and Russian cinema that produced classic films such as "Battleship Potemkin" and "Solaris", marks its centenary on Tuesday, and its director general says it is well set up to prosper in the future.

Karen Shakhnazarov, at the helm of Mosfilm for more than 25 years, says the standoff between Moscow and the West over the conflict in Ukraine should benefit Russian filmmakers.

While some Western movies are still shown in Russian cinemas, often long after their theatrical release elsewhere, domestic movies have become increasingly important to box office earnings.

"It's a gift for us," Shakhnazarov told Reuters at the sprawling Mosfilm complex on the outskirts of Moscow, referring to the drop in the number of Western films featuring in Russian cinemas.

He was one of the leading cultural figures in Russia to publicly endorse what the Kremlin calls the "special military operation" in Ukraine soon after it began.

"There is another issue - how can we use it? I hope that it has its effect," he said.

"It's understandable that competition is essential for the film industry, but there are times when we need to raise the level of our filmmaking, and now it's a good time to do that."

Box office returns in Russia exceeded 40 billion roubles ($450 million) in 2023, according to Tatiana Golikova, a deputy prime minister who is also in charge of the board of trustees of the Cinema Fund.

She was quoted late last year as saying the revenues were close to pre-pandemic levels when Western films were shown more frequently, and that last year Russian movies accounted for 28 billion roubles of the box office total.

STILL A FORCE

Mosfilm has survived both the Soviet Communist era, when films were subject to strict censorship, and the severe economic downturn that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Mosfilm makes only a fraction of Russian movies, but it remains a force, boasting expansive outdoor sets recreating imperial-era cityscapes, advanced recording and editing studios, CGI facilities and a large cinema complex.

"Mosfilm is not inferior to any studio in the world, and surpasses many of them," said Shakhnazarov, who is also a film director.

The 71-year-old said he was proud of the studio as its centenary approached, adding that although it was state-owned, it covered its own costs.

State TV channel Rossiya 1 aired a gala on Jan. 20 which celebrated leading figures of the past including Sergei Eisenstein, who directed and co-wrote the 1925 film "Battleship Potemkin".

Other movies produced by Mosfilm include "Solaris", the 1972 movie directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.

Shakhnazarov repeated earlier statements that he thought the war in Ukraine was inevitable and that "it is the other side that is responsible" - a reference to the West.

His comments reflect the Kremlin's explanation for the conflict, which it casts as an existential fight for survival against the United States bent on subjugating Russia.

Kyiv and its allies reject the justification, and say Europe's deadliest conflict since World War Two is an unlawful land grab in which Russian forces have committed war crimes. Moscow denies the charges.

"When two strong people meet, each of them always wants to dominate," said Shakhnazarov of Russia and the West. "It's unavoidable," he added, wearing his trademark sunglasses during the interview.

He said that films about war were more popular than any other genre in Russia and beyond - something that surprised him.

Many of Mosfilm's most successful movies have been set during war and upheaval, including mutiny, a failed invasion of ancient Russia and World War Two.

"All our greatest hits, both Soviet and Russian, have many fewer viewers than our films about war," he said.