Director Andrey Zvyagintsev and producer Alexander Rodnyansky tell us about navigating the tricky waters leading up to the Russian theatrical release of their Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe-winning Russian film Leviathan. The drama about is about a man named Kolya, a small-town mechanic in a northern, seaside village where an unscrupulous mayor decides he wants the land occupied by Kolya's home for himself. Kolya decides to fight back but runs into a corrupt bureaucracy backed by the local orthodox priest. His efforts to combat the system lead to dire consequences for his entire family.
While winning awards in the US and Europe, including Best Screenplay at Cannes last May, Leviathan has drawn the ire of Putin-friendly critics in Russia, even though it was partly funded by the state.
The country's Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky has said that films like Leviathan, which are "critical of the current government...should not be funded by taxpayers."
When Rodnyansky and Zvyagintsev went to release their film theatrically in Russia, they found themselves running up against new profanity laws, which ban any curse words in films shown in Russian movie theaters. A censored version of Leviathan, with the bad words muted, opened in Russia on February 5, 2015.
But many Russians have already seen an uncensored version of the movie. It was leaked online in January, and has been downloaded more than two million times. Rodnyansky and Zvyagintsev tell us they were furious when they first learned about the leak, but the movie has generated such a response around Russia, they've gotten way more publicity than they ever anticipated. So much interest was generated after the leak, theater owners started approaching them, and while they had initially planned to only release the film on 300 screens, it'll now be showing on 650 screens in Russia.
If Leviathan does win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Picture, the filmmakers aren't sure what the official reaction will be in Russia. When the film won a Golden Globe, the first time a Russian movie had done so since 1969, the award was almost completely ignored by Russian media. But Rodnyansky and Zvyagintsev aren't worried about that. They just hope their film continues to foster discussion and open dialogue, something they say a Russian film hasn't done in years.