The movie capital of the world opened its arms to an expeditionary force of eight Soviet film makers on Friday as representatives of the American and Soviet movie-making establishments officially began a weeklong “Entertainment Summit” intended, in part, to explore opportunities for cooperation among the superpowers in celluloid.
The summit’s activities, which will include meetings with some of Hollywood’s top moguls and creative people as well as a brief foray next week to New York, opened at a well-attended, wide-ranging, upbeat and brief morning news conference at Le Bel Age Hotel in West Hollywood.
Summit organizer Mark Gerzon, a Malibu producer, said the bilateral event was principally an effort to dispel negative stereotypes that Americans and Soviets have of each other, both on and off screen.
Soviets, Gerzon said, see American movie makers as “lackeys of big capital who produce movies that protect the interests of the ruling class.”
Americans, he said, view Soviet film makers as “simply lackeys of the Communist Party (who) don’t produce art, they produce propaganda.”
Both views, Gerzon said, are false.
Soviet delegation leader Elem Klimov agreed, but with considerably more humor.
Klimov, a director and head of the Soviet Film Workers Union, introduced his group of seven other film makers, a celebrity TV commentator and an entourage of interpreters and others as Moscow’s “movie paratroopers on the shores of California.”
“And so,” he said, playing on the title of a well-known American-made movie of the 1960s, “the Russians are here!”
Without being asked, Klimov acknowledged that the delegation’s presence followed the controversial broadcasts last month of the “Amerika” miniseries on ABC and coincided with the broader process of liberalization and democratization that has been going on in the Soviet Union for the last two years.
Klimov, who has been a member of the Communist Party for most of his adult life, said the widely publicized glasnost (openness) campaign of Party Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev results from a revolution in Soviet politics and society and that “art and cinematography play a large role in those changes.”
Glasnost , he said, was allowing for “very radical change” in the structure of Soviet movie making.
(Last year, the State Committee of Motion Pictures (Goskino) began relinquishing some of its centralized power to studios spread throughout the vast country. Today, the studios have far more authority over the release and distribution of feature films, and some previously banned films, such as Klimov’s “Agonia” (“Agony”), have had wide release.
(Delegation member Victor Dyomin, a film critic, said another change came at a recent union meeting that saw a number of old-timers and party members ousted from positions of leadership. Dyomin, who does not belong to the party, noted that fewer than half the visiting delegation’s members are party members, and party affiliation is no longer essential if a film maker wishes to succeed.)
It was unclear from the comments made by both sides Friday just what the serious goal of the summit is. There was plenty of talk of friendship and understanding, but little about concrete improvements in U.S.-Soviet cultural relations.
In answer to one independent producer’s question, director Tolomush Okeyev said that both sides hoped to “strive” for agreements allowing Americans to shoot more films in the Soviet Union and vice versa, but there were no suggestions that any such agreements would emerge from the privately sponsored summit.
“God knows, we’re optimistic,” said Okeyev, who is from the Central Asian republic of Kirghizia.
Said American organizer Gerzon: “You know how deals are made in Hollywood--you meet for lunch. Well, they’re here meeting for lunch.”
Another optimistic note was made by TV commentator Vladimir Posner, the one-time New York resident who has become a frequent spokesman for the Soviet government on U.S. television broadcasts.
Asked whether the current changes in Soviet life might be abandoned as were earlier attempts at liberalization, Posner insisted that Gorbachev’s changes were meant to be permanent and to lift the nation to a “new stage” in its development.
“The changes have found tremendous support among the people,” Posner said. “This is not a temporary event.”