In the first of a series of interviews with Russian film-makers, ScreenDaily reporter Olia Hercules talks to the President of the Russian Guild of Producers, Sergey Selyanov.
As one of Russia's best-known producers, Selyanov has been responsible for the production of more than 50 films, as well as award-winning animation and documentaries. In 1992 he founded the CTB film company, which is now one of the largest in Russia.
In recent years his reputation has spread to an international level with the success of Gulshat Omarova's Native Dancer, Sergey Bodrov's epic Mongol and Alexey Balabanov's Cargo 200.
ScreenDaily: How important is studio involvement in the development of Russian film'
S.S: There is definitely a need to export and Russia is very interested in international co-operation
ScreenDaily: Is their involvement completely benign' Aren't Russian producers worried that 'Russian' film as such might be in danger'
S.S: There is nothing to worry about yet. There aren't that many co-operations to start with. Besides, it's not like anybody is using strong-arm methods on us. You are talking about Hollywood here, aren't you' That is still a long way off. Whether it's an arthouse film or a blockbuster, we are still a long way from Hollywood domination Everyone is free to either accept foreign involvement or reject it. We still rely on and cater primarily for the Russian market.
A film that is not suitable for this market will not find any interest or support from Russian producers, even if it boasts the involvement of serious western partners.
And there is Mongol of course, which we've co-operated on very successfully indeed. Why not' We do need to develop this area. Basically, we are interested in co-operation and gradually we will try to overcome this barrier
ScreenDaily: Is there a financial basis in Russia to build a sustainable independent film industry'
S.S: There certainly is a financial basis for whatever you want, the question is about demand. There is very little independent art cinema in Russia. The market puts a limit on it. You should always invest your money into something that will repay.
If we are talking about arthouse, auteur cinema, there are no returns. Sometimes the problem might be solved with help from the government. Sometimes a film does well overseas; sometimes the sales abroad aren't enough to return your investments.
So it is the market that inhibits development, not any lack of finances. Both producers and investors have plenty of money, but the market will never bring any financial rewards. Arthouse films are unprofitable, even loss-making, and not everyone can afford it. Nonetheless, we still make them
ScreenDaily: There weren't any Russian features in Cannes this year, apart from Gata, which is a short. Is this the election committee's fault or were there no deserving candidates' There were rumours that your film Shultes was going to enter.
S.S: There were definitely worthy candidates, although I have not seen all of the films, so I am not free to comment on this. Apparently, Serebrennikov made a good picture; and some others which we thought to be worthy. What can I say Yes, for a long time Russian films have been ignored, which we feel is unfair.
And frankly, a lot of the films they show at Cannes do not overwhelm us [Russians] with any particular joy. Russian films are viable competitors, but it is their festival, their right and decision. Apart from Shultes, there was also Tulip and there is a film shown by Valeria Gaya Guermanica, so the range is slightly wider But yes indeed, Russia was scantily represented this year.
ScreenDaily: You once said that you believe in the 'creative force of the masses'. Yet Cargo had some very harsh criticism in Russia and was largely disliked. Do you think it's bigotry on the part of the Russian audience and critics .
S.S: Why largely disliked' The film isn't simple, it's rather controversial. It is not white and fluffy, and it is not for everybody. But, eventually after long arguments and debates, the critics gave it their award [National 'White Elephant' critics' award in Russia].
Most of the critics recognised its tour de force. The film was shown on Channel 1, with a lively discussion afterwards and not only on TV, but also on the Internet, etc.
The film took its well-deserved place, broke through a certain wall Of course it has its own adversaries, as it is a powerful piece of art, controversial in its nature. But this is natural. There isn't a society which would readily and fully embrace this sort of film
ScreenDaily: Are you filming the second part to Mongol' When is it due to come out'
S.S: We are preparing for it. If everything goes well we will start filming early next year. It is all in the development stage at the moment.
ScreenDaily: Sergey Chliyans [producer] once complained about the lack of professionals in the Russian film industry, namely editors and screenwriters. Do you ever try to rectify this problem'
S.S: There are a few more editors these days, but there aren't enough screenwriters indeed. There are very few of them worldwide, not only in Russia. We do try to help, but a considerable amount of young talented screenwriters who could eventually become great masters of the trade are lured away by television.
ScreenDaily: Is it because television pays better'
S.S: There is more work there. There are ten times the amount of television hours to film hours. There is an enormous amount of work, a bigger demand for screenwriters. It is easier to make money, so they happily flock to TV companies. Regarding film writers, one needs to grow, to stiffen one's will, get over a huge amount of rejections.
And when there is something as tempting as TV right there in front of you, not everybody has the strength to resist it. That is why it is so hard to help young talent. One needs strong will power to work in film. You need to bite the bullet and struggle for some time.
ScreenDaily: Is Russia in cinematic terms an emerging or a re-emerging country' Is this a question of infrastructure or culture'
S.S: People all over the world go to the cinema, regardless of which system they live under. Whether it is the Soviet era or not, people love cinema. Yes, indeed there was a well-known crisis after perestroika, which we are now finally overcoming.
And of course, during Soviet times, the cinema attendance was colossal! Up to 100,000,000 people And these numbers are impossible to reach today. What is this to do with' It was due to the fact that there was literally not much else to do in the Soviet Union.
There wasn't much on television; there were no videos or DVDs. There wasn't much entertainment, there was no tourism. The tickets used to be dirt cheap. Today they are rather expensive. Besides, the Soviet population was so much bigger, Russia is much smaller now.
The Soviet record was enormous; around 100,000,000 tickets sold for The Pirates Of The 20th Century. Today the record is 10,000,000 for the modern sequel of the old Soviet classic The Irony of Fate.