Russian cinemas have responded to international sanctions over the war in Ukraine by going pirate.
After Russian President Vladimir Putin unleashed a brutal assault on Ukraine on Feb. 24 — a war officially dubbed a “special military operation” — hundreds of major western corporations, including the Hollywood majors, withdrew from the Russian market.
More than three months into the war, reports are surfacing about illicit screenings of Hollywood movies at Russian cinemas, with initial reports naming “The Batman,” “Red Notice,” Disney animation “Turning Red” and Michael Bay crime actioner “Ambulance.”
According to the Russian edition of Esquire, “The Batman” has been screened at Moscow’s WIP theater, as well as at Greenwich Cinema in the Urlas city of Yekaterinburg and at regional theaters in the Far East of Russia.
The latest reports indicate that pirate screenings are becoming more sophisticated in order to evade detection: a movie theater in Vladivostok, in Russia’s Far East, screened “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” and “The Batman” under different Russian-language titles, according to a report in online news outlet Life.ru. Those titles differed from these films’ standard titles but were still recognizable. Handwritten tickets were sold to viewers.
Those screenings took place in May, just as controversy rocked Cannes over the inclusion of Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov’s “Tchaikovsky’s Wife” in the official selection. Although there were noticeably fewer Russians on the Croisette this year, it’s understood that some Russian buyers were indeed present.
The reappearance of piracy in Russia comes after the practice was all but eradicated during the post-Soviet economic collapse of the 1990s. RAPO, an MPAA-backed anti-piracy organization staffed by former security service officials, had major success in combating piracy in the early 2000s, targeting retailers and manufacturers of illicit discs and tapes.
While the current practice isn’t believed to be widespread just yet, it’s still proving to be a cause for concern among distributors and exhibitors in Russia.
None of the theaters mentioned in the Russian media reports have responded to requests for comment, but industry analysts have told Variety that the situation is complex. (Variety)