Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mikhalkov Aims for Rebirth of Cinema

In the cavernous lobby of the 89-year-old Khudozhestvenny Cinema at the head of historic Arbat, plush crimson theater chairs nest in rows across the marble floor like dominoes as they await installation.

Brass-edged glass ticket booths and a state-of-the-art sound system are the next investments planned at the 600-seat cinema -- one of only a handful in Moscow drawing enough moviegoers to bankroll its own floor-to-ceiling renovation.

But the movers and shakers of Russia's revitalized film world have suddenly hit on the connection between the box office and creature comforts in this age of more discriminating post-communist consumers. With top-notch new cinemas like Kodak Cinema World and modernized old movie houses like Khudozhestvenny drawing capacity audiences while the dowdy majority of theaters sit empty, filmmakers and financiers are joining forces to ensure that moviegoing explodes like popcorn. Spurred by the promise of soaring ticket sales as Russians regain enough disposable income to resurrect their Soviet-era habit of taking in an occasional movie, investors are drafting plans for new multiplex cinemas across the country and gearing up for what Russia's most renowned director predicts will be the film industry's "Klondike."

"What's the sense of creating great films if people have to watch them on tattered screens, in the cold, seated on rock-hard chairs and catching a whiff of the theater's ancient toilet?" asks Oscar-winning director Nikita Mikhalkov, the new head of the Russian Cinematographers Union and chief crusader for resurrecting his countrymen's moviegoing passion.

"The experience of watching a film begins with the cinema environment, and most of our theaters are horrid," said the director. "Bringing them up to world standard is not a matter of choice."

Mikhalkov has embarked on a mission to attract local and foreign investors to bring Russia's 2,000 urban movie theaters up to Western comfort levels.

Most of the cinemas built during the Soviet era, when film was strongly supported by the Communist government as a means of mass propaganda, have fallen into disrepair as state subsidies have disappeared. Some rent out space in their lobbies to vendors of clothing, cosmetics and even furniture, clogging the premises with noisy distractions that further discourage filmgoers.

The handful of modern new movie theaters, on the other hand, are packed with young Russians. Cinema World, just off bustling Tverskaya Ulitsa in the heart of Moscow, was developed by Eastman Kodak and Los Angeles-based Golden Ring Entertainment and opened in October 1996.

The media arm of financial baron Vladimir Gusinsky has announced a $120 million project to build or retrofit dozens of cinemas in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan and Yekaterinburg.

Sergei D. Livnev, the brash young president of Gorky Film Studios, has embarked on a veritable storming of the Russian countryside with design concepts and financing packages for a network of new movie houses stretching from Moscow to the Far East.

Livnev plans to travel with a touring film festival across Russia in the spring to inform potential investors of the opportunities for building modern, moneymaking cinemas for as little as $1.5 million.