Russia’s cinema association has left the international cinema trade body UNIC. The move comes after the withdrawal of Hollywood studios from the Russian market over the war in Ukraine, which has led to the greatest existential crisis for Russian cinema since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Although largely a symbolic move, it is nevertheless an important signifier of the pariah status that the exodus of Western businesses has left Russia facing.
The Russian Cinema Owners Association has applied “to exit” UNIC in a letter submitted to the trade body. The decision to leave voluntarily is thought to be taken in order to pre-empt a possible expulsion from the organisation. The Russian association joined UNIC around 2019, which is when Russia became the largest cinema territory in Europe in terms of admissions.
Russia depends on Hollywood films for up to 70% of box office. Without these blockbusters it has relied on domestic films, re-releases and films from Korea, India and South America. Some cinemas have resorted to showing pirate versions of films such as Warner Bros’ “The Batman”, leading the Russian cinema association to condemn such actions. “The plan to replace the overseas stuff with the local products and European imports is next to utopian,” said Oleg Sulkin, a film critic with Voice of America’s Russian Service. “The most realistic scenario is that many cinemas will be shut down or restructured — like in the 1990s.”
“Cinemas have rapidly emptied,” David Shneyderov, a Moscow-based film and TV critic told Variety. “By the end of the summer, almost 90% of cinemas are expected to close, the largest IMAX hall in Moscow is not working, and the large – 1,500 seat – hall of the Oktyabr multiplex in downtown Moscow is empty.” Meanwhile, two-thirds of cinemas have reopened in war-ravaged Ukraine.