Russia scraps Lenfilm sale after directors' plea

22nd September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia on Thursday shelved a plan to privatise the country's oldest film studio, Lenfilm, after top directors including the prize-winning Alexander Sokurov protested to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The culture ministry has withdrawn its proposal to sell 75% of the studio to AFK Sistema, a vast holding company, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed to AFP.

"The culture ministry recalled the plan to develop a more balanced decision," Peskov said. "Expert analysis will show how justified the directors' fears are."

The crumbling complex covering 10 acres in central Saint Petersburg was founded in 1918, making classics such as the legendary Soviet film version of "Hamlet" starring Innokenty Smoktunovsky. But in recent years it has fallen into disrepair.

Sokurov, whose "Faust" just won the top prize at the Venice film festival, and fellow director Alexei German, maker of films such as "My Friend Ivan Lapshin," signed an open letter in August pleading with Putin to intervene in the decision.

"Such acts do not seem legal and fair to us," the letter warned, saying the studio was being undervalued given its central location and that its priceless archive could fall into private hands.

Peskov stressed the privatisation plan would go ahead if the director's fears were judged baseless, however. "Today Lenfilm is simply Stalingrad after the bombings," he said.

Putin, a Saint Petersburg native, told a conference of the ruling United Russia on September 5 that "no final decision has been taken" on Lenfilm.

He said the government had invested 60 million rubles ($1.87 million) in the studio but it needed 10 times more to develop.

At the same time, he spoke of his respect for the studio's history, saying: "To be honest I feel sorry about this myself."

Culture Minister Alexander Avdeyev told Putin the ministry was "in solidarity" with the filmmakers, warning of "serious damage to the production of national cinema if the worst happened to Lenfilm."

AFK Systema, whose chairman of the board is billionaire Vladimir Yevtushenkov, owns companies including Detsky Mir children's stores and Intourist travel agent.

It owns a film company, Russian World Studios (RWS) with a large modern facilities in northern Saint Petersburg. The plan was for Lenfilm to be incorporated into RWS.

Sokurov last week praised Putin for helping him find funding for "Faust" and said the premier called to congratulate him just seven minutes after he received the Venice prize.

© 2011 AFP

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