When Vladimir Putin gave the order for the latest stage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he knew two things for sure: 1) there would be consequences but 2) they wouldn’t affect him.
Five months later, the consequences are indeed being felt globally, but no more acutely than in Ukraine. Tens of thousands have died, millions are now refugees, and the economy faces decades of recovery. In Russia, at least a thousand foreign firms have pulled out, there’s no access to SWIFT, and an estimated $630 billion in foreign reserve cash has been frozen.
Russia’s Cinema Industry On Life Support
Russia’s cinema industry is just one of the many casualties hanging on by a thread due to the conflict in Ukraine. With almost no lucrative entertainment left to screen after Hollywood pulled the plug, various groups began hiring idle cinema screens for their own ‘private’ pirate screenings of torrent-acquired movies.
Some may argue it’s reasonable to screen ‘The Batman’ in a cinema after downloading the movie from a torrent site. After all, that instantly solves the supply problem and gives the public access to movies. On the flipside, that business model effectively bypasses an entire industry built on the provision of licensed content, stability, investment, and associated employment opportunities.
But with no licensed content available, it’s now a race to the bottom.
Research suggests that the damage suffered by the cinema industry in the first six months of 2022 goes beyond that caused by the pandemic. The response from the Russian Association of Cinema Owners (AVK) was to leave UNIC, Europe’s International Union of Cinemas.
An AVK press release cited sanctions, Hollywood’s refusal to supply movies, and “anti-Russian rhetoric” as reasons for leaving, but no theory on what might’ve caused such a sudden breakdown in relations.
Meanwhile, the situation in Russia is worsening by the day. Hollywood movies represented around 70% of major releases before the studios’ mass exodus and it appears the authorities have no intention of stopping those attempting to fill the gaps with unlicensed content.
Cinema Piracy is Growing Remarkably Quickly
Back in May when pirate screenings were gaining traction, AVK called on the “entire professional film community” to protect the Russian cinema industry by standing against piracy. “We condemn the practice of illegal screening of films in Russian cinemas,” AVK said.
After the Russian government promised to ensure the financial security of the industry but came up with nothing, it appears that pirate screenings increased dramatically. AVK chairman Alexei Voronkov acknowledges the problem but faced with a 72% drop in revenue versus 2021 and the prospect of 50% of cinemas closing by August, he’s pragmatic if nothing else.
“I can’t even blame cinemas now dabbling in torrent screenings,” he told industry publication Kinometro.
“To date, the wave of unauthorized showing of film copies is developing exponentially and will only grow: four weeks ago, such content was shown directly in 16 cinemas, last week – 127 cinemas.”
When legitimacy is displaced by a chaotic black market with no concept of added value or the means to deliver it, investors looking for a steady long-term return will probably look elsewhere. Those with money in the game right now will be preparing to lose it, move it, or cut their losses. They have no glamorous product to sell anymore, only inferior copies to hawk.
Pirated movies playing in cinemas is all very well when there are zero legal alternatives but when things finally start returning to normal, whenever that might be, will there be any cinemas left in Russia where genuine movies can be screened? Six months has pushed the local industry to the verge of collapse but the crisis in Ukraine seems unlikely to reach a solution in the next six years.
Roll the credits please….this is the worst movie ever.