Russian Films vs. Hollywood Movies
For quite a few years now the idea of introducing some form of protection for the domestic film industry has been discussed by Russian authorities and members of parliament. The most commonly proposed solution to the “problem” of Hollywood films’ dominance in Russian movie theaters is the introduction of quotas for foreign films.
But does the government really have to introduce protectionism into the film market? Would such a policy simply backfire?
Only five or six ago, any restrictions on Hollywood films wouldn’t have made any sense. Back then, the domestic film industry didn’t turn out more than a couple dozen features per year, and if not for Hollywood movies, there wouldn’t have been anything to show at the multiplex cinemas that had just begun to pop up throughout the country.
Today, the situation is completely different. In 2007, for instance, domestically produced movies accounted for about one quarter of all box office revenues. While this is a significant fi gure, it’s still much lower than many in the Russian film industry would like to see.
If, say, a 50 percent quota on foreign movies were introduced — meaning that at any given moment, only half the movies playing in theaters could be of foreign origin — there would still be enough Russian movies to fi ll screens, as these days many more are produced than fi nd a distributor for theatrical release.
But are there enough domestic movies that audiences would want to see? That’s the big question, especially when it comes to commercial movies. Overall, the Russian commercial cinema industry is rather young, and although it is quickly developing along the lines of Hollywood examples, there is still a lot to be learned.
This is not to say that all Hollywood movies are good. To be sure, there are lots of bad movies shot on huge budgets that are tens or even hundreds of times bigger than those of most Russian movies. But at least audiences coming to watch a Hollywood film know what to expect from it, and in most cases the movie meets their genre expectations. For example, if they go to see a thriller, they’ll see a thriller — whether good, bad, or average, it’s still a thriller. At the same time, people who go to see a Russian film advertised as a thriller may end up watching a hybrid of several genres, none of which really works.
As a result, domestic distributors often complain that it takes much more money and effort to persuade people to come see a domestic movie as opposed to a Hollywood one. In this situation, the introduction of quotas would give a competitive edge to domestic producers, who, instead of having to compete with Hollywood blockbusters for audiences, could continue to make mediocre movies, confi dent that they will attract audiences anyway.
At this point, when the number of feature films annually made in the country has surpassed Soviet-era figures, just about everyone is waiting for a “transition from quantity to quality.” And better quality can be achieved only in competition with other movies — those produced both in Russia and in other countries.