When it came time to do the press tour for his 1997 blockbuster Titanic, James Cameron had one or two specific requests.

 

Given that it remains the second highest grossing film of all time, it’s easy to overlook just how much of a gamble James Cameron’s Oscar-winning epic, Titanic, was at the time. The press was regularly full of stories about how far the film had overrun, about how it was off schedule, and about what an overblown production it had become.

Cameron, of course, would have the last laugh. Stellar reviews, massive box office and lots of Oscars is about as good as it could have got.

As part of the promotional push for Titanic, 20th Century Fox was keen for James Cameron to travel across the world promoting the film, fully aware that the only way the movie would get its money back was through international box office (it had sold US rights to Paramount, when the budget for the film started to balloon).

Cameron agreed to this, and then-head of Fox’s international division, Jim Gianopulos (who now heads up Paramount), put to him a multi-city tour across 15 counties.

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Cameron agreed, but wanted to add another stop. He wanted to go to Russia.

As Gianopulos tells in Lynda Obst’s excellent book, Sleepless In Hollywood, at this stage Hollywood films didn’t make money in Russia. But Cameron wanted to go anyway.

Gianopulos agreed – “what could I say?” – and discovered the reason why Cameron was so keen. Whilst making the film, he’d befriended Russian sailors on the research vessel he used when he went down to see the Titanic wreckage first hand. And he promised them that when the film was done, he’d bring it to them to see.

As it turned out, Cameron had effectively promised them a screening not in the far more easily accessible Moscow, but in Kalingrad. “I was very worried”, Gianopulos admitted. “Because this is after weeks of having been tortured by Jim about the quality of the theaters, about the quality of the projections; every print had to be pristine, everything had to be impeccable”.

Thus, Gianopulos scoped out what state Kalingrad’s cinema was like. He was told it was “more like an auditorium”, and when asked about the quality of it, he was assured “they are fixing it up”. Unfortunately, ‘fixing it up’ meant simply ‘painting the seats’.

The seats were wooden. The cinema, it’d be fair to say, wasn’t up to James Cameron standards.

Keen to keep the filmmaker happy, Gianopulos ordered a crew to go in and refit the venue, adding Dolby sound and better projection. The screening went ahead, and large numbers of people in the area came alone. “It was an incredible event”, Gianopulos recalled. “To see these sailors who understood their role in the process but also were just so amazed to see this fantastic presentation”.

It took three tons of sound equipment to re-equip the Zarya cinema in Kalingrad, refitting a venue that has stood since the 1930s. Here’s what the single-screen cinema, the only one of its kind in the near area, looks like (courtesy of Arti 8998, Creative Commons picture)

And if you want to see what’s showing there today? You can find its website right here: http://kinozarya.ru/

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