Russia, torrents arrive at the cinema: pirate films to get around the isolation

The Cold War was played out above all on the level of symbols, those cultural clumps that marked the difference between the two opposing worlds: like those of cinema, which in those years was imposing itself with the overwhelming force of images.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24th, has generated a climate of strong international tension that has set the clock of history back a few decades, and that of the apocalypse forward by a few minutes.

The West’s support for Ukraine does not only involve sending weapons to the resistance, but also in packages of sanctions against Russia. And to hit the enemy the West also commanded one strategic retreat: that of its services, brands, products, subtracting one’s imagination from the availability of the Russian population. Starting, of course, with what is the most striking and popular plastic manifestation of an imaginary, namely the cinema (and so are the TV series).

Hollywood and Netflix have cut ties with Russia. Just like during the Cold War, then, the Russians suddenly found themselves isolated from that western horizon with which, however, they had grown up at this time. However, censorship today is not internal, it does not come from the Kremlin, but is imposed from outside.


Little changes, however: already in the last century some dissidents had found a way to obtain American films and then screen them clandestinely, moreover risking very serious repercussions on the part of the government. And it was therefore impossible to think that today, without having to take mortal risks and with the internet out of the way, similar situations would not occur. Even because the stars and stripes films represented about 70% of the Russian film marketbefore the fracture.

Things, it seems, are going just like that. After the Russian Association of Cinema Owners expressed their fears about the industry’s survival following the sanctions in early March, in April, projections of pirated films began in Russian cinemas. Downloading a torrent, after all, is a much less prohibitive undertaking than getting clandestine films.


Attitudes are different: some cinemas decide to do it openlywithout any kind of reserve, while others prefer to use a ploy in an attempt to protect themselves and free yourself from direct responsibilities, allowing private individuals to rent the rooms for the screening of films. As the New York Timesfor example, a group has decided to rent those of the Ekaterinburg cinema to screen The Batman, advertising the initiative on social media and selling tickets to attend the screening.

At the moment, however, it is not clear how common and widespread the phenomenon is: the dominant scenario seems to be that of generally deserted cinemas, with the projection of pirate films that would constitute a scant attempt at survival. The Russian association of cinema owners intervened on the matter at the end of last month, and precisely on April 26, releasing a statement in which it is expressed concern about these emerging practices, whose illegality is emphasized also with reference to the criminal code of the Russian Federation:

We understand that such cases are mainly attributable to the panic that has engulfed the industry in the absence of an effective government response to the current plight of Russian cinemas, and the failure of the Russian film industry to offer short-term spectacular films that are appealing to a broad audience, despite the impressive support received by the film industry at the expense of the state budget.

We once again draw attention to the fact that, in the absence of new laws or regulations governing relations with film companies of hostile countries that have decided to suspend their activities in the Russian Federation, the screening of a film that takes place without an agreement (license) […] qualifies as illegal and falls under art. 146 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation as deliberate use of objects of copyright and related rights carried out in violation of the provisions of current Russian legislation.

This practice of illegal public screening of films is also subject to several articles of the Administrative and Civil Codes of the Russian Federation which establish the responsibility of organizers for such illegal screenings..

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