A court case against Martin Scorsese's Oscar-nominated film could signal a turn towards censorship in a moment of rising tensions.
The Wolf here is Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. The film was released in Russia on February 6 and has since racked up a healthy $13 million at the box office. The picture has an official release license from the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation for all territory of the country with age requirement of “18 or over” given by the country’s rating board.
There were no problems until the Novosibirsk office of the Federal Drug Control Service (FDCS) filed 6 claims against 10 movie theaters, which are showing The Wolf of Wall Street in the local court of Novosibirsk Central District, asking the court to fine theaters owners. The pretext for the claims was the so-called expert opinion “that some scenes in the film reflect a narcotics subculture, narcotics are idolized and the subject of narcotics use is obvious during all the running time”. There is a statute in Russia that bans this practice. If found liable by the court the theaters could be fined substantial sums of money with the confiscation of promotional materials and equipment used to produce it and they could even be closed down for up to 90 days.
Novosibirsk is the third most populous city in Russia after Moscow and St. Petersburg and the most populous city in Asian Russia, with a population of 1,523,801 among which are many scientists and other members of the university community. The city is the cultural center of Siberia and is sometimes known as Academic City. The Director of FDCS Victor Ivanov earlier commented in Moscow that he never issued any orders to fine theaters for showing The Wolf of Wall Street. However, a court spokesperson explained that the leadership of Novosibirsk’s FDCS considers that the film by director Scorsese “promotes drugs and sex”. He confirmed that six charges of breaking the “administrative” (non-criminal) code were indeed filed against 10 local theaters. The cases will be heard by the judge Elena Fedorova.
The General Manager of local movie theater chain Pavel Danshin stated that he rejects the charges, saying: “The film’s exhibition is totally legal based on the release license issued by the Ministry of Culture”. “I never heard about this matter. This kind of task for territorial offices of the FDCS was never assigned before and is not being assigned now,” said Mr. Ivanov. The date of hearings is yet to be announced, if the case should indeed proceed it could provide an indication of a potentially changing climate vis-à-vis the distribution of Western films in one of the world’s most emerging markets.