Crisis management for Russian cinematographers

The Russian film industry has held an emergency meeting to discuss the state of affairs in the Union of Cinematographers and the conflict between the chairman of the Union and a group of his opponents.

On March 30, Oscar-winning director Nikita Mikhlakov was reelected chairman of the Union in an open ballot by a majority of votes. This comes 3 months after his opponents had chosen a new chairman of the Union, veteran filmmaker Marlen Khutsiev, in December 2008. However, their decision was later found to be illegitimate by a Moscow court.

Mikhalkov’s term expired in 2007 and he hasn’t called a meeting of the Union since then. However, according to the law, the chairman can be reelected an unlimited number of times. Many members of the Union have criticized Mikhalkov, who has been its chairman for 12 years, saying he proved to be a poor manager. They claim that under Mikhalkov’s leadership the commercial side of the Union’s activities, namely the use of its real estate property, was ineffective. However, Marlen Khutsiev’s supporters emphasized that they didn’t want to wage a war, and only sought “to revive a normal, creative life in our Union”.

An appeal to President Medvedev

AFP Photo / Stan Honda

In February, a number of prominent cinematographers wrote an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev in which they said that throughout the past 10 years the Union “failed to fulfill some of the most important obligations to cinematographers, the national film industry and the country’s culture.”

According to those cinematographers, who signed the letter, this happened for many reasons  – mostly because Nikita Mikhalkov holds too many other posts and has “proven ineffective in managing our public organization.”

The cinematographers wrote that the “list of his mistakes and ambiguous moves is so large that he’s lost the trust of the majority of the Union’s members.”

History of the Union

The idea to create the Union of Cinematographers belongs to legendary Russian film director Ivan Pyryev and dates back to the 1940s. It was a time when all kinds of creative and professional unions were mushrooming in the Soviet Union. In 1932, an All-Russian Union of Theatre was set up as well as the Union of Architects, Composers and Writers. The Union of Cinematographers held its first session in 1965. Its activities have been aimed at protecting the social and professional interests of its members.

During the emergency meeting of the Union’s membership on March 30, Mikhalkov was quoted as saying, by the RIA agency: “I’ve never dealt with anything I’m not an expert in. I’ve never signed a single financial or juridical document if it doesn’t concern me personally. That’s my credo!”

Mikhalkov’s speech at the Union’s meeting was emotional. Some said he was on the verge of breaking into tears as he continued to brush off accusations. “I’ve never been involved in commercial or financial relations which could be of any potential profit to me with any member of the Union. The only financial relations I’ve had with the Union is the financial aid to our film veterans…”