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Russian Directors in Hollywood
Text Vladimir Kozlov

The successful international box-office performance of Timur Bekmambetov’s first major US picture, Wanted, begs the question of whether or not the newer generation of Russian film directors are fit enough for Hollywood.

It’s been years since a Russian director was a noticeable presence in Hollywood. In fact, the only example that comes to mind is Andrei Konchalovsky, who had a rather successful career in the United States in the 1980s, before the political climate in the Soviet Union changed and he chose to return to his home country to continue his filmmaking career here. A few other notable Soviet directors reportedly had proposals to work in Hollywood but were not allowed to do so by the Communist authorities.



The opening up of the country during the Gorbachev reforms of the 1980s gave more international exposure to people in the arts here, including cinema. While some musicians and visual artists moved abroad and successfully continued their work there, no Russian film directors made any significant inroads in Hollywood. And that’s easy explicable: the U.S. film industry is primarily focused on commercial, genre cinema, while in the Soviet Union, good films of that kind were few and primarily mimicked foreign examples. In addition, the changes in the country gave domestic directors enormous opportunities at home.

Night Watch

But as the last 20 years have shown, the Russian film industry tends to follow Hollywood models. And, as domestic commercial cinema matures, are there chances for domestic directors to make it overseas?

Bekmambetov’s example is quite impressive: Following the Russian/US co-production The Arena, he made three very commercially successful movies in Russia in the last few years (Night Watch, Day Watch, and the remake of the Soviet classic Ironiya Sudby [Irony of Fate]), and directed the top-notch US movie Wanted, which has been well-received by audiences and critics alike.

So are there other directors in Russia who could potentially match Bekmambetov’s record abroad? Probably. But what does it take? As Bekmambetov’s example shows, the director must, be, among other things, capable of handling a huge (by Russian standards, at least) budget and keenly aware of how the visual side – including CGI and other visual effects – works in a modern movie.

Day Watch

Since the budgets of Russian commercial films have grown over the last few years, the gap with the US has narrowed on that front, although a $10 million bankroll still can’t hold a candle to the $100 million or so typical of an A-list Hollywood picture. Similarly, the visual side of Russian movies has been improving over the last few years and visual effects have been getting better.

At this point, it is difficult to say which particular director(s) of the new Russian breed are fit for a career in Hollywood, as most of them haven’t had a chance to make more than a couple of films, not enough to make a judgment. For example, Fyodor Bondarchuk — whose first feature effort, the Afghan war drama The Seventh Company, was among the few domestic films able to secure international distribution three years ago — is only completing his second picture. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see at least a couple of domestic directors working on major Hollywood projects within a few years.

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