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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Axing of Goskino Stirs Passions

Of all the changes in the governmental agencies ordered in the past week by President Vladimir Putin, the abolishment of the State Committee for Cinematography and its transfer to the Culture Ministry has provoked the most controversy and outrage.

Saying they fear that after losing its own agency the movie industry will not survive, filmmakers gathered Wednesday for an emergency session of the Cinematographers Union and agreed to push for a meeting with Putin to try to convince him to reverse his decision.

Under the decree Putin signed last Thursday, the State Committee for Cinematography - or Goskino, which has served as liaison between the studios and filmmakers on one side and governmental on the other - will become one of the departments of the Culture Ministry.

While in Soviet times Goskino regulated all film production in the country and acted as a censor, in the past decade it has turned into an influential structure protecting the interests of the studios and filmmakers. Holding the status of a governmental minister, Goskino head Alexander Golutva had access to the prime minister and president.

"If any additional money was allocated for the industry, it was Golutva's personal achievement. From now on there will be no one to lobby the interests of filmmakers," said Yelena Slatina, cinema expert of the weekly Expert magazine, in an interview.

Golutva said Wednesday he would not accept the post of the Culture Ministry's department head in charge of cinema unless the Cinematographers Union decides he should. Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi has indicated that Golutva will be offered the post.

Shvydkoi, who also attended the session, said the chances that the decree will be reversed are minimal. Instead he said the filmmakers and his ministry should work together for the industry's sake.

His call wasn't appreciated by the filmmakers, who attacked him for proposing the merger to the prime minister.

Cinematographers Union chairman and filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov said the industry became attractive to the Culture Ministry because of its revival.

"No one expressed any interest [in Goskino] some five to seven years ago. Why was it necessary to make this decision in haste and now? The answer is simple: The industry has started to be profitable," Mikhalkov said.

While most cultural establishments are dependent on the cash-strapped Culture Ministry, the film industry, so successful in Soviet times and almost dead in the early 1990s, is beginning to thrive, with more movies being shot at the big Mosfilm and Lenfilm studios.

Rumors of the possible abolishment of Goskino had been circulating for four months, and a number of prominent filmmakers had signed four open letters sent to Putin asking him to preserve the agency. He didn't respond, which many filmmakers took as a personal insults.

"The fact that Putin did not find the time to treat our outstanding filmmakers and actors with respect is upsetting. It's not like a St. Petersburger. It's a shame," said St. Petersburg-based filmmaker Alexander Sokurov.

Mikhalkov suggested that Putin's staff had kept him poorly informed and he was unaware of the protests against his decree.

Naum Kleiman, director of the Cinema Museum, said that if film studios are put under the control of the Culture Ministry, they will lose their independence, have their income stripped and go bankrupt. The likely result is that they will be privatized and purchased by television magnates who have no interest in film production.

"The studios will then become an adjunct of television. As an industry, cinema will be dead," Kleiman said in an interview.