How popular is Russian film in other countries? How is modern digital technology changing the TV and movie industries? Is it difficult to organize an international event in the current political climate? These and other questions posed by Kommersant FM Anatoly Kuzichev were answered by Ekaterina Mtsitouridze, head of Roskino, general producer of the St. Petersburg International Media Forum.
— Our guest today is the head of Roskino, Ekaterina Mtsitouridze.
— The head of Roskino is not a bureaucrat. Thank god we have a free organization, actually free from bureaucratic influence.
— Does MinCult [the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation] have any influence over you?
— MinCult tries to influence us, but it doesn't subsidize us, so we exist somewhat independently, because, as they say, he who pays the piper calls the tune [in Russian — he who pays for the music is the one dancing.] And we are calling the tune, and dancing.
— Fine, now that we have mentioned the word "MinCult," tell us how, apart from subsidizing, does it project its influence? Through various laws, perhaps?
— The laws of MinCult, without a doubt have a bearing on all Russian film, on all Russian cinematography. But I wouldn't say that this influence is often positive. I would say that often times it is destructive. Cinematographers are a very resilient type, and they can tenaciously withstand any changes, or transformations, or attempts at a transformation. They are like guerilla warriors. So many things, so many laws they've tried to pass in the past two or three years: like limiting American films in favor of Russian ones, forbidding swearing language in Russian film, forbidding something else in Russian film, forbidding Russian cinemas from doing this or that, forbidding something on the Internet.
— Is the key word here "forbid"?
— They always feel compelled to forbid something. Verbs like allocate, encourage, subsidize, or lobby just aren't part of their vocabulary.
— Which of these laws is the most heinous? The prohibition of swearing, without which you and I, naturally, would find it hard to have a conversation?
— It goes without saying. Russian swearing in particular. There’s a great article in Variety magazine by Mikhail Trofimenkov, one of the best critics in the world.
— Ekaterina, don't forget he's also the editor-in-chief of the magazine Variety Russia.
— Mikhail Trofimenkov, who writes for Variety Russia, and is a permanent contributor to Kommersant, and a leading critic, wrote this giant article for Variety about the use of Russian swearing in literature and in the arts, and he came to the conclusion that a request should be sent to UNESCO for the constitutional protection of Russian swearing as one of Russia's great cultural treasures. This is true.
— This is actually a great idea.
— If Russian swearing was really to be taken and protected, like St. Basil's Cathedral, I don't know.
— Maybe it doesn't really compare to a cathedral, but it’s part of Russian literature.
— Russian culture.
— Russian culture, yes, of course.
— An interesting idea.
— Naturally, this law is also doing a certain amount of damage, because it essentially limits the rights of the screenwriter or any other author to self-expression. Because there's swearing and there's swearing, as the saying goes, and any "nice" sentence can be pronounced in a vulgar or raunchy way, or, just the opposite, very appropriately. This is of serious concern to the author and how he relates to the words he writes; and to the film director and how he relates to his images, and so forth. We know that a huge number, 90% of today's Russian commercial films do not contain a single word of swearing, but they are vulgar to the extreme.
— This is true.
— And they are aimed, as then-Minister of Defense Sergei Borisovich Ivanov said in his time, at the dumbing-down or the "leading into the dark" of the population.
— And do you have any influence over this?
— Russian swearing, if used sensibly and in actual leading works of literature, never had an influence. Including in film. As a matter of fact, in film there is very little swearing; if you dig around, it's possible to find some isolated examples. Nowadays, in defiance, everyone wants to use it, and so they have achieved the opposite effect.
— Have you read the new Pelevin book yet?
— A new book by Pelevin? Unfortunately no; tell me about it, please.
— I read it. There isn't a single swear word, and every time he's about to use a swear word, in a place where one is called for, he makes a footnote and writes "verb starting with such and such a letter, past tense" and so forth.
— He turned this into a performance.
— Yes, a performance. It was very smart, but nonetheless it's clear what caused this, and I don't like it.
— All this is funny.
— Is Roskino trying to somehow influence this situation, a situation it considers unfair?
— Unfortunately we can only demonstrate how people should work. We work with international organizations, we try to promote good Russian films, regardless of the presence or absence of uncensored speech, at festivals and in film markets. We were just in Toronto, and in Venice, and took great pleasure in presenting everything new that's been done, being a partner of this and that market. For us it is important that we demonstrate something resembling common sense within the Russian film establishment, because people form personal connections, and when they trust you personally, it’s easier to lobby within your industry sector.
We love what we do. Everyone on my team, we all work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I like the fact that at the St. Petersburg Media Forum, which is our favorite creation, we do absolutely everything; starting in January, we don't even stop to breathe. The entire Producers' Guild of Russia, the entire membership of the Association of Film and Television Producers of Russia are there. They wrote an amazing welcoming statement. It's very important to me that each one of them supports this, because it's these people for whom the rules of the game need to be written. And even if we host an international event in Russia, it’s still a priority that these people assess us. It's good to have an international market here at home, so that everyone can come and look, but it's also a very important outlet for our own filmmakers. When you host visitors to your own country, it's already on a different level. You can afford to do this, you are relevant, you are trendy. And the Russian film and television industry is in sufficiently good shape, as long as these idiotic laws don't wreck everything.
— Words of gold; we'll use a quote from this broadcast.
— Thank you.
— Let's talk about the forum.
— Two words: "media" and "forum." I insist on principle that there be two: "media' and "forum."
— OK. The St. Petersburg International Media Forum. This first word - media - suggests that you are not only talking about film, but also certain topics related to distribution, like, I don't know, piracy.
— Television. This word is implied, yes?
— Television, the Internet. Yes, the term "media" has lately encompassed everything that is happening on the Internet, and in the film world, and in the TV world, and in the area of new media startups, which are trying to promote, sell, buy, and monetize content, and all of this will be part of our discussion. But the most important thing, what makes our event truly unique, and I'm afraid of certain boastful-sounding words, but it's unique in the sense that such platforms don't exist anymore in Russia. In the world there are a handful of events which combine digital with film, or digital with television. But there hasn't been anything that combines film, television and digital in a single place. And it gives us great pleasure that we are trendsetters. We have one and a half thousand people coming, and not just the top companies like HBO, Fox, Disney, and Warner Brothers. I'm not naming the medium-sized and small companies; just the ones that are household names.
— Everyone's coming.
— That's right, everyone's coming. In spite of the current situation which has developed around the country's foreign policy and around this whole story.
— You're saying the forum hasn't felt the icy breath of sanctions?
— It's nice that as a whole, filmmakers don't have a nationality, and neither do people working in television. There is a kind of international fellowship, and it's precisely this fellowship we are creating in St. Petersburg. All of us felt this when we invited them in Cannes, in Toronto. Everyone sensed that things would be cool here, things would be open, that we are ready for dialogue. We aren't asking them to change their minds; we simply want them to have a conversation with us, to buy our content, to see our potential, to make deals with each other. And not necessarily only Russian content; there will be a full-fledged market, where everyone will be able to make deals with one another. We're going to have some very important panel discussions; I'm proud that one of them will be facilitated by Alexey Pimanov, the host of the program "Man and Law." Who else besides him to lead the discussion on the subject of anti-piracy on the Internet. This is a cross-platform panel discussion, where there's film, television, the Internet, and everything that's happening. The co-facilitator will be Christopher Marcich, the vice-president of the European branch of the MPA, which is a huge anti-piracy organization in America; Chris will be co-facilitating with Alexey Pimanov. A lot of interesting things are planned for the forum.
— As you say, there will be a lot of cool things, and we just want you to talk with us and buy our content.
— Yes, buy our content.
— And what exactly is our content?
— Represented there will be programming from all TV channels, all production companies, both TV and film. In other words, the showcases of all the top Russian companies. From Channel One Russia, the studio of Alexander Tsekalo, the studio of Pimanov, STS, their production workers, TNT and their production companies. Vlada Ryashina's studio Star, Alexander Akopov's studio Meteo.
— Do we have something to offer?
— Of course, these days we have a fantastic production quality in our TV series, the highest quality, I believe. Êîíå÷íî, ó íàñ ñåãîäíÿ çàìå÷àòåëüíûé óðîâåíü ñåðèàëüíîãî ïðîèçâîäñòâà, âûñî÷àéøèé, ÿ ñ÷èòàþ. Naturally the Americans' TV series stand head and shoulders above ours, because they have budgets that have a few more zeroes on them. But I should say that our production will be interesting to the European buyers, and we have over 300 companies, buyers, from Europe that are registered.
— On the issue of whether the political climate will have any bearing on work with international partners, you have already answered no, if I understood you correctly.
— It won't have any bearing. There were, I'll admit, several veiled refusals, but no one said anything directly, and these were not substantial companies on the level of Disney or Fox. These were mid-level companies that alluded to their busy schedules, but this sometimes happens, and it may be that this was truly the case. And only one planned venue didn't work out, out of all the heavy lifting we were doing.
We were planning a casting venue, where around 25 or 30 casting directors from around the world, mostly from Hollywood, and they would audition Russian actors. This was aimed only at Russian actors. We took part in such an event in Ireland, and the guys from Ireland ended up writing a letter saying thanks, but after London cancelled the Year of Russia in the U.K., we can't do this; we've been told not to participate. But we said, "OK, we'll do it separately, and when your directives will be cancelled and returned back, we will somehow do this event separately.
I don't discuss politics with anyone. OK, they were forbidden [from participating] by some or other of their people, I said, "Fine, we'll do it another time." They were very happy that we didn't react with any hostility. The program was planned as cross-program, entitled "New British Film," Lyosha Medvedev prepared five wonderful films, which would be unlikely to be shown in Russia. New art films.
— Unlikely to be shown in Russian cinemas?
— Unlikely. And we are showing these films. We planned this, we didn't cancel, we'll show the films, and people are coming.
— Why is everything happening in St. Petersburg, by the way?
— Because St. Petersburg is the most beautiful city in Russia.
— Here we go again.
— Because St. Petersburg is much more open to people, because St. Petersburg is more open and loyal to foreigners, and because in St. Petersburg, if you go into any hotel, any store, they speak English really well.
— And sometimes French as well. Yes, I am absolutely serious. St. Petersburg is more ready for tourism, for business. Take the economic forum - the only serious business convention in Russia. The St. Petersburg Economic Forum takes place in this city. This is very important, because it creates the ideal conditions for work, and in the evening the ideal conditions are there for a person leaving the market, which, by the way, we are running in a fantastic place called the Old Stock Market on Vasilevsky Island. I went to Mikhail Borisovich Piotrovsky, we talked a bit and within three minutes we decided that he would be our partner, we would use the building, he would help out in various ways to fight with the bureaucracy, to get everything signed, to figure out how everything should be arranged. We are even agreeing together on the paint, which paints we will use so as not to damage the integrity of the stone or anything else.
— And we decided what we would do there. And you will leave there in the evening, and all around is this city - it's magical. And even if a person doesn't have deep pockets, in St. Petersburg they can always spend a pleasant evening.
— There is always, if not a restaurant, then at least a bar.
— And there is always, besides the Mariinsky or the Mikhailovsky theaters, Peterhof, for example. Tsarskoye Selo, Pavlovsk.
— Yes, you can find things to do there.
— There is also, by the way, St. Isaac's Cathedral, which admits visitors up until two o'clock in the morning. Do you know how convenient that is? Tourists are there practically all night, until two in the morning they can be there on certain days. This is very convenient, because a lot of people work rather long hours.
— In other words, this was not just a conscious decision, it was also a declaration of sorts?
— Everything I've said is true. But first and foremost it was because the city responded; it was the initiative of the city to conduct some kind of convention in the sphere of culture, in conjunction with business, and the personal initiative of the governor Georgy Sergeyevich Poltavchenko. This is why we took great pleasure in authoring this concept. I wouldn't say that everything has been easy. There were many complications, and we had to overcome some differences of opinion and complications of a bureaucratic nature, with people who worked on the team with the vice-governor. But Georgy Sergeyevich Poltavchenko stepped in and took the reins, that's when things started moving. And he introduced his partners, because the city isn't providing a large amount of funding, only 40 million rubles, so the rest of the funding came from the partners, from their commercial partners.
— The rest? How much is that?
— We're up to about 120 million, and that's not very much at all. Next year we're going to put down a much bigger amount, because right now we are economizing on everything: from hotels that are giving us triple discounts, and no one will be able to say that they found one that's cheaper than ours, I won't believe it. From the tickets on Aeroflot, which is our strategic partner, thank god, "National Media Group," which is giving us free advertising time on STS, Channel Five, Ren-TV - this costs a lot on Live News. What I'm saying is that we have a lot of partners. Don't forget about Kommersant, because Kommersant is always our partner, and it's my favorite publishing house. This year we have tons of friends, and next year we will have even more. 120 million rubles is not very much; it's a little more than 2 million euros, and that's a small amount. The small TriBeCa festival in New York costs more, the Moscow festival costs about the same. This is after all a startup. We did it, put in our maximum effort, and we'll see how it develops further. Besides, we have a lot of screenings; we'll have 10 films every night in various cinemas.
— Is there a festival program?
— In the cinema section, the films were assembled by the assigned curators, from the above-mentioned Misha Trofimenkov, Alexey Medvedev, we have programs by Boris Nelepo, Vasily Koretzky, Alyona Bocharova, Kirill Sorokin, and documentary films. Konstantin Shavlovsky's TV pilot and series. We will discuss new films, new TV series, and series pilots for next season. We will have premiere showings of Rodina.
— Did Lungin shoot this here, in Russia?
— No, this is the American Rodina. We have a direct bridge.
— There's an adaptation.
— It's still in production. We will have a new season, the first series, a video conference with Capetown, hosted by Andrey Malakhov.
— What is the ideal outcome from this kind of event, this wide-ranging, many-faceted and multilayered event?
— What a great question — no one has asked me this in the 120 interviews I've given; this is actually a very important question. The outcome, I believe, will be on several levels. First of all will be the buzz that the St. Petersburg Media Forum will get, and has already received, starting with the Cannes TV market MIPTV in April, then the Cannes Film Festival in May, then Venice in August and September, and Toronto, also in September. We gave high-quality presentations in four places, and in Venice we were together with the president of the entire biennale, one of the most influential people in film, architecture, and the contemporary arts. He has been in charge of the Venice Biennale for 25 years. We attended these events in their [his] company. The presentations were attended by 150 to 800 people, whereas in Venice the presentation was small, only 120 people. Venice is huge. In Cannes we celebrated the 90th anniversary of Roskino, where we used every opportunity to talk up the St. Petersburg Media Forum.
When people started approaching us who were ready to come at their own expense, and this was near the end of July, we understood how important this was, because at first when we were urging them to come, we mentioned the expenses that would be paid by our hotels, the reduced-fare flights, etc. and now many are flying only at their own expense - as of now, it’s about 1,500 people, and this number is still growing because a lot of people will return from Toronto and then decide to fly over here. It will be convenient for many people to fly here, because MIPCOM will be starting here - the biggest TV market in Cannes, and the Americans, and the Chinese, and other countries are using us like a transit zone; they will be here at our market for three days to familiarize themselves, and then go on to the big, grown-up market. We are just a startup, only starting out.
Further, regarding the financial aspect - this is yet another answer to your question. In time, this could essentially become an independent financial institution, in three or four years, if the deals will be serious enough, and we will already be selling stands at different prices, participating in deals, and once again Russian deals will become a big part of the media market. At present, it's nice to know that Alexander Sokurov is creating a campus where 100 people from all across Russia will come to Repino for a week to take an intensive course of study under the guidance of him and his team of 18 people. Then, Sergei Selyanov will present the foundation Point of View. They will discuss the state of the co-production market. We will have a co-production market, with about 100 people taking part; the Northern Seas Film Forum will help us with this, Kostya Nafikov and Alexey Sokhnev. They are inviting people from all across Europe who are interested in co-production, and who have finished screenplays and already have grants, and all this will come together in St. Petersburg, where partnerships will be made and so forth. There will be a lot of folks from the CIS countries. The Azerbaijani studio Buta Films asked if they could create a separate pavilion. And we've got Ukrainians, which is nice.
— There are Ukrainians?
— We've got Ukrainians, Belorussians, and Kazakhs. It's great that we aren't acting all full of ourselves, like we're only interested in America or France, developed countries, or China. Of course, everyone's watching China, but we are very open for the CIS.
— We're watching China?
— Naturally, we're watching China.
— And China's watching us?
— Out of seven Chinese companies that we sent invitations to, one big company responded, and that was really terrific. They might have not answered at all, because they are particularly friendly with America. Because China’s focused on Hollywood, its relationship with America is built on rumor and secrecy, in fact it trades on these rumors. A team from Vanda is coming, too. Vanda is one of the seven biggest content production, promotion and distribution companies.
— Considering that you call yourself a startup, I would say that this is a big success.
— In any case, this is a startup, and its story needs to be developed. In our country, it's a bit difficult to predict how our words will reverberate. We'll have to wait and see.
— I forgot to ask the most important question - when is this all happening?
— From 1 to 10 October, and we'll be waiting for you in St. Petersburg, to participate as a speaker at the panel discussions. And all those questions you didn't have time to ask me, you'll be able to ask an industry professional.
— Yes, I do have a few more questions, so I'll take you up on that, from 1 to 10 October in St. Petersburg.
— Yes. We’re going to set up a Kommersant corner, at the Old Stock Exchange in fact, so it's all part of the plan.