Russia's Obscenity Law Will Crush Independent Film

New legislation is being so quickly adopted in Russia today that anyone tracking it is bound to be suffering from a case of whiplash. Hundreds of new legal initiatives have already been ratified this year alone.

Among the more frustrating and misguided laws to be adopted is the law that bans swearing in films, books and music. Although the swearing legislation technically only bans four obscene words and their various derivatives, it is more problematic than initially meets the eye.

First, there is the tiny question of the Russian Constitution, which forbids censorship. Of course, that begs the question of who among Russia’s Duma deputies has bothered to actually read the Constitution at all. The previous ratings system, which allowed Russian adults to decide whether they wanted to see, for example, a play with mature themes, did not go against the Constitution. It allowed adults to decide for themselves whether or not they could handle a bad word.

But the obscenity law has created a second, not immediately obvious problem in the movie industry. As it is now, the law stipulates that films that use these swearwords will not receive a distribution certificate.

This means that every single public screening in Russia will now only take films with a distribution certificate certifying that they do not contain the four banned swearwords. This includes art-house films that were never meant for commercial distribution to begin with and that typically lack the funds or know-how to get it.

You can forget about experimental, art-house and upstart independent films meant for the festival circuit and produced by Russia’s small but vibrant film culture.

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