The Soviet Union--historically a country involved in and excited by the movies--finally arrived at the American Film Market this year, perhaps to buy, perhaps to sell and certainly to make some acquaintances.
The Soviets have been conspicuously absent from the film market's previous seven editions, though the Beverly Hilton-based international film bazaar has grown in stature to almost rival Cannes. But now that the U.S.S.R. seemingly has a new mandate to reach out and touch someone, the Soviets are on the move--all over the world.
The new Soviet Cinematographers Union chief, Elem Klimov, set the Berlin Film Festival on fire earlier this week with his declaration of independence for his cinema colleagues at home. And now the Soviets have come to Hollywood--a calling-card visit that, according to Sovexportfilm Chairman Oleg Rudnev, has three purposes.
The first was simply to attend the film exposition, which opened last week and closes today. "This is our first visit," the ruddy, dramatic Rudnev said in Russian. "We have come to Los Angeles to present a calling card, if you will--to meet some new people." He added that while the Soviets have always appeared at international film festivals, including Cannes in France, and at Milan's MIFED film market, this visit marks their first American appearance.
Second, the Soviets want to exert greater control over the kinds and number of videotapes that are distributed and sold throughout the U.S.S.R. "There are large numbers of films in the Soviet Union which we never bought or admitted," Rudnev said. "It is time we at Sovexportfilm (the state-sanctioned international film import-export agency) provided the majority of product for the Soviet market, and not illegal importers and smugglers."
And third, "We want to see some good films, and take some good films back with us," Rudnev said. "We thought it was time we saw what was available."
Checking to see what's out there remains the driving force behind AFM, where everything from the lionized "Platoon" to the rather less heralded "Assault of the Killer Bimbos" is on display and subject to negotiation. And while the film market has been criticized in the past for being less than discretionary in selecting its wares, AFM director Tim Kittleson said that the number of 1986 Academy Award nominations (46) handed out to AFM product refutes that protest.
"This is not a film festival--I've got to say that right off," Kittleson said. "We're here to sell films, both here in this country and abroad--not necessarily to showcase them. But since this was the year of the independent--and since the independent film makers and distributors have always gotten strong results from being here--we're a little more bullish about it this year."
Indeed, AFM is not for cineastes so much as it for deal-makers.
So while Klimov was trumpeting glasnost in the production end of Soviet cinema in Germany--"We are getting our rights . . . We want people in charge who direct and produce,"--his countryman Rudnev was more cautious.
"I do not think in terms of 'what is allowed' while I am here," Rudnev said, his blue eyes twinkling under thick Brezhnevian eyebrows. "Excepting pornography--which is not sold here--and heavily political films that are usually quite boring anyway, we have a free hand.
"That does not mean we will take anything," he continued with a dismissive gesture. "We are not starved for product. For instance, we would like very much to bring 'Platoon' back with us, though I have not seen it. But everyone we have spoken with says it is good film. And 'Peggy Sue Got Married' I quite liked."
Rudnev said he has gotten less enthusiastic recommendations regarding the 14 1/2-hour ABC-TV miniseries "Amerika," a fictional depiction of the United States 10 years after a bloodless Soviet takeover. Rudnev added that he and his ultimate superior, Soviet leader Gorbachev, are still very interested in acquiring it for rebroadcast in the Soviet Union.
"We will have to cut it quite a bit, however," Rudnev said. "But not for the reason you are thinking. The politics of it are rather awkwardly stated, but it would make interesting watching. It is only that parts of it are so boring, I'm sure we would not be able to get large audiences for the complete broadcast."
The Soviets have also come to sell, though Rudnev admitted grudgingly that the traffic through their AFM suite has been "less than gigantic." Among Sovexportfilm's offerings is "The Theme," a film produced in 1979 but only recently given official permission to be shown in the Soviet Union of exported. "The Theme," directed by Gleb Panfilov, won first prize (the Golden Bear) at the Berlin Film Festival on Tuesday--and therefore is probably Sovexportfilm's hottest commodity.