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'Star' Productions: Russia's Armed Forces Are Launching A Film Studio

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu praised recent Russian movies on the country's military history, and cited them as an example to follow. (file photo)

MOSCOW -- The Russian Defense Ministry already has its own federal TV channel, Zvezda (Star), a steady diet of Soviet war movies, commercials for the country's armed forces, and anti-Western propaganda. It now intends to launch its own film studio, tapping into the zeitgeist by producing the kind of patriotic fare that is enjoying growing approval from Russian cinemagoers.

The plans for a production facility dedicated to the armed forces were announced on March 26 by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who mounted the stage at an annual awards ceremony honoring works of art and culture that promote Russian patriotism.

"In the near future we will began to build our own, large, military film studio," Shoigu told the audience in a speech broadcast on Zvezda. "And I'm convinced that we'll manage this."

Shoigu explained that the initiative comes amid a paucity of films about Russia's contemporary army, a force revived and modernized since President Vladimir Putin first took power in 2000.

In recent years, it has been involved militarily in Ukraine, Syria, and now reportedly Venezuela, and the Defense Ministry has sought to have a more proactive role in promoting those campaigns and their perception at home and abroad.

Instilling Patriotism

The ministry's new Main Political Directorate has been tasked with instilling patriotism and military values among Russians, an offensive ratcheted up under the leadership of General Andrei Kartapolov, according to independent military analyst Aleksandr Golts.

In February, a Defense Ministry train loaded with tanks, guns, and other military hardware supposedly seized from the battlefields of Syria set off on a propaganda tour across Russia, bringing to anyone willing to listen to the message that the armed forces are guarantors of peace in the world.

Another train carrying 30 World War II-era tanks was greeted in January with crowds, fanfare, and TV cameras as it passed from Vladivostok to Moscow.

In his speech, Shoigu praised recent Russian movies that have shed light on prominent pages of the country's military history, and cited them as an example to follow. Since 2012, the government has patronized the production of big-budget history flicks, and lavished many with round-the-clock coverage on state TV.

Top-Down Campaign

In the past two years, three films have been released on the subject of World War II-era tanks alone: Indestructible and Tanks hit cinemas in 2018, and this year saw the release of T-34 -- a high-octane tribute to the Soviet tank that played a key role on the Eastern Front -- which was a runaway success at the Russian box office.

According to a press release on the Defense Ministry's website, the awards ceremony over which Shoigu presided was launched in 2015 in an effort to recognize those servicemen and civilians who contribute to the "military-patriotic upbringing" of Russian citizens, a term applied to an ongoing top-down campaign to instill pride in Russia's past and present military achievements focused particularly on the younger generation.

Among the winners at the ceremony were the cast and director of Sobibor, a film made with support from the Russian government that tells the story of a Red Army officer who led a prisoner uprising at a Nazi concentration camp in Poland. Director Konstantin Khabensky echoed Shoigu's hopes upon receiving his award.

"The more examples of pride we have in the areas of cinema, theater, music, art and literature, which we can share people from the whole planet," he told the audience as he stood alongside his team, "the wider and clearer will be the borders of our great, beautiful country."

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    Matthew Luxmoore

    Matthew Luxmoore is a Moscow-based correspondent for RFE/RL covering Russia and the former Soviet Union. Before joining RFE/RL in 2018, he reported for The New York Times in Moscow and has written for The Guardian, Politico, The New Republic, and Foreign Policy. He’s a graduate of Harvard’s Davis Center and a recipient of New York University's Reporting Award and the Fulbright Alistair Cooke Journalism Award.