Russian war propaganda film plays to empty theaters

No one in Russia is going to see a Kremlin propaganda film fictionalizing and justifying the invasion in Ukraine.

“The Witness,” which premiered across Russia on Aug. 17, has tanked in the box office, playing to empty theaters across the country.

The movie, which follows a fictional Belgian violinist who arrives in Kyiv shortly before the Russian invasion in February 2022, has grossed 14 million roubles, or about $145,000. It cost 200 million-roubles, or approximately $2 million, to make the flick.

The feature-length film includes numerous bits of propaganda the Kremlin has used to attempt to gain support for the war, including depicting a Ukrainian commander walking around with a copy of “Mein Kampf,” while others pledge their allegiance to Adolph Hitler, The Guardian reported.

Vladamir Putin notably said Moscow has to “denazify” its neighbor on the eve of the invasion, falsely claiming that Ukraine was infiltrated by Nazis.

“The Witness” is reportedly filled with falsities used as propaganda by the Kremlin.

The movie’s protagonist ultimately witnesses “inhuman crimes and bloody provocations by Ukrainian nationalists,” according to the film’s premise.

Some moviegoers said that they were confused to arrive to empty theaters.

“I had seen all the other movies already and had a free evening, so decided just to check it out,” said Alexei, a moviegoer in Moscow. “When I got to the theater room, I thought the viewing [had] ended because it was so empty.”

People stand at ticket machines in a cinema lobby inside a shopping mall in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023.
“The Witness,” which premiered across Russia on Aug. 17, has tanked in the box office, playing to empty theaters across the country.

Experts said the movie is tanking because it offers Russian’s more of the same — propaganda and war.

“Russians get force-fed propaganda everywhere they go – on state television, on the street, in schools and universities,” said Ivan Philippov, creative executive at AR Content, the production company of the famed producer Alexander Rodnyansky.

“Many want to see movies that allow them to forget for a moment what really is going on, forget about the gloom and doom of the news from Ukraine,” he added. “The last thing they want is to be reminded of war.”

Hundreds of filmmakers, writers, singers and other artists have left Russia since the start of the war in Ukraine, taking with them the country’s creative talent.

““The level and professionalism of the artists that decided to stay in Russia and work with the state is low,” culture critic Mikhail Kozyrev said. “And the viewers can feel when a movie is made on orders by the state. It just isn’t authentic.”

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