Yes, a massive studio release is an artistic endeavor, one that can bring audiences together and break down boundaries in the common bond of aesthetic appreciation. But these releases are also huge economic undertakings that drive entire sectors of multiple national economies. “The Batman” probably costs more to manufacture and market than the entire gross domestic product of some of our small island nations.
At a time when companies around the world are announcing their refusal to do business in Russia, it therefore makes sense that the biggest American film studios are heeding the call for solidarity and withdrawing their product from the Russian film market while the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s illegal war continues. . As a result, Russian citizens will be deprived of theatrical screening of films such as Warner Bros.’ “The Batman”, “Turning Red” from Disney or “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” from Paramount.
The Russian film market isn’t small either: in 2019, the last normal year for the box office, it was the ninth-largest international film market. Losing that audience stings, especially if the films end up being seen by Russians via digital piracy anyway. That said, between the collapse of the ruble and questions about the ability of studios to withdraw money from Russia due to the country’s isolation from the SWIFT banking system, the economic consequences of holding back a film could be minimal in the short term.
But to quote another Batman movie: “It’s not about the money. It’s about sending a message. The point here is to hammer home the fact that Russia stands alone, on the verge of becoming a pariah state. Cutting the stream of pure, uncut American kino is a small but safe way to do this. And most of these movies aren’t exactly about inspiring glorious resistance against the state anyway.
But what message do we send when a film festival excludes Russian filmmakers from the competition because of Putin’s aggressiveness? The answer is more delicate.
Earlier this week, the Glasgow Film Festival revoked invitations to two Russian films and their directors: Kirill Sokolov’s ‘No Looking Back’ and Lado Kvataniya’s ‘The Execution’ would no longer be welcome at the Scottish festival. After getting some heat for the decision, the festival clarified that organizers were doing this because of the film’s funding sources.
“Both films have received state funding through the CF Cinema Fund whose board of directors includes current Russian government ministers and the Russian Ministry of Culture,” the festival said in a statement. The decision “is not a reflection of the views or opinions of the makers of these films.”
It is an understandable position. But this is, I think, a mistake. International film festivals offer filmmakers privileged opportunities to denounce the actions of the regimes that govern their country of origin. And Russian filmmakers have often clashed with the priorities of Putin and his cronies; 2014’s “Leviathan” is one of the most damning critiques of Putin-era Russia I can remember.
Kvataniya himself offered a prayer for peace on Instagram: “We are a brotherly nation! I am against war! I did not choose this president! I did not choose this war! Love | Love | Love.” Wouldn’t it have been more powerful to bring Kvataniya to Glasgow and invite him to speak out against the war in person? Shouldn’t he be offered the opportunity to present the Russian point of view to the world? who risk a lot by opposing the conflict?
The special scrutiny of Russia at this time is warranted. But festivals are always accepting applications from Chinese and Iranian filmmakers. These filmmakers, too, often receive state subsidies; it’s not an uncommon practice in small film industries, and it doesn’t turn films into mouthpieces for the government. Do festivals really want to tell filmmakers from countries that already lack basic free speech protections that they are not welcome because of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the people who rule their homelands? ?
In the West, we must continue to be a beacon for artists and art lovers. The urge to show solidarity with Ukrainians is appropriate – but there are better ways to do that than by excluding Russians opposed to the invasion.