Sovkino

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Goskino (1924-25), Sovkino (1925-30) and Soiuzkino (*1930, absorbed Mezhrabpom, Proletkino and Gosvoenkino) succeeded each other as the central cinema organisations of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet cinema industry was nationalised on paper in August 1919 but state control was not effectively established for at least another decade.

For most of the 1920s Soviet cinema was as commercially orientated as cinema in Western Europe and North America, even though many of the cinema institutions were owned by public organisations such as trade unions and local authorities.

The first centralised state-owned cinema organisation was set up in 1924 under the acronym Goskino [Gosudarstvennoe kino]. It was, however, underfunded and simultaneously overtaxed and thus unable to compete in a harshly competitive environment, so that in 1925 Goskino was replaced by the more generously funded and generally otherwise more powerful organisation, Sovkino [Sovetskoe kino].

Sovkino had, however, also to operate in a predominantly commercial environment. In the financial year 1927/28 the income from imported films (largely from Germany and Hollywood) still exceeded that from Soviet-made films.

The tenth anniversary of the October Revolution in 1927 gave pause for reflection. Despite an array of anniversary films, such as Eisenstein’s October [Oktiabr’], the general impression was that Soviet cinema was not Soviet enough, especially as films made by the leading left-wing directors remained less popular than imports with Soviet audiences.

In March 1928 the Party’s agitprop department called a conference, which attacked Sovkino for concentrating on “cash, not class” and demanded an ideologically correct “cinema intelligible to the millions”. This call has to be seen against the background of the cultural revolution that was supposed to accompany the first five-year plan of 1928-32 and the associated campaign for proletarianisation and against “bourgeois remnants” from the pre-Revolutionary period, which were grouped under the general pejorative term of “Formalism”, used to denote an alleged obsession with form rather than content.

Sovkino’s days were clearly numbered and in February 1930 it was replaced by Soiuzkino [Soiuznoe kino]. In October 1930 Boris Shumiatskii, an Old Bolshevik, was appointed head of this new all-embracing organisation and in the course of the 1930s, until his summary arrest and execution at the height of the Great Terror in 1938, he oversaw the final stages of the establishment of state control. Soiuzkino absorbed the other cinema organisations, including the semi-private Mezhrabpom studio, which had been partially funded by its association with the German-based International Workers’ Aid movement; Proletkino, which had begun life as an arm of the Proletkult proletarian culture movement; and Gosvoenkino, which had been established to provide the armed forces with suitable film material.

Shumiatskii was not only a capable administrator, he also thought hard about what he was trying to do. His 1935 book, Kinematografiia millionov [A Cinema for the Millions], which took its title from the 1928 conference resolution, laid out his plans for a Socialist Realist cinema with mass-audience appeal, which he summed up in the term Sovetskii Gollivud [Soviet Hollywood]. (Richard Taylor, source)