In addition, if movie theaters close all over the country or the quality of screening deteriorates due to a lack of Western hardware, where do you show all the Russian movies?
To account for the shortage of foreign content in movie theaters and on streaming services, Russian filmmakers have to double or even triple production volumes. That already sounds like a challenge given the present state of the industry, which has constantly complained about a lack of qualified professionals, especially screenwriters and showrunners. But with the rising cost of filmmaking – highly dependent on Western hard- and software – this might prove even harder. And the difficulties don’t end with production. Disney, Universal and Sony not only brought Hollywood content to Russia, but they were also among the biggest distributors of local films, both blockbuster and auteur cinema (sometimes even investing in production, like with the top grossing trilogy Last Knight
produced by Disney’s local office).
If we step back from this business paradigm, there is another important issue – that of artistic liberty, or rather it narrowing. The big screens were already devoid of pretty much anything risky long before the invasion, but the streaming services enjoyed more freedom and tried to push boundaries in their original productions oncontroversial topics like politics, LGBTQ relations and social problems. However, government control over what can and cannot be shown online has tightened over the past two years
and will very likely become even tighter since the beginning of the war.
Some of these censorship measures are covert and some are public – like a new law being discussed in the Duma that would forbid any “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” (up until now it was only restricted to minors), including movies and TV series. Very often, however, it just “goes without saying” – for example, the critically acclaimed movie Captain Volkonogov Escaped
that talks about 1930s repressions (and where you can find many parallels with the present) hasn’t been banned officially, but “everyone understands” that it can’t be released now. Still, the most effective control has always been financial: projects that go against the state doctrine simply won’t get funding. And the state is still one of the most important and influential investors when it comes both to blockbusters and auteur cinema.
Understandably, many creative talents simply don’t want to keep working in such conditions. Since February dozens of filmmakers, well-known and little-known, have left Russia. The main reason was ardent disagreement over the war in Ukraine and fear of being prosecuted for their views, but another reason – not the least important for many – was the realization that it would now be impossible to create what they want to create. That their ideas and talents are no longer welcome in their own country.