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Digital house shakes out cobwebs

TV, Todorovsky projects to help UMP tout Russian know-how

MOSCOW — Russian producer Rauf Atamalibekov has come a long way in a decade.

Ten years ago, as the local industry was just emerging from the collapse of the Soviet Union, he started a sound recording service facility. Today, at age 37, he’s opened the territory’s first digital production house — with the goal of using new technology to bring the Russian film industry into the black.

Now tooled up with Russia’s first Sony HD 24 system, Atamalibekov’s United Multimedia Projects is running as a ministudio — but there’s nothing mini about his ambitions. Screenings at Cannes showcased UMP’s three projects to date — a feature-length comedy, a fest-acclaimed documentary and a special-effects video short.

UMP’s slate to the end of the year is also looking solid, with two TV series in production for Moscow’s Center TV channel, including respected local helmer Sergei Ursulak’s version of the Agatha Christie-themed “Poirot’s Misfortune.”

Topping the film bill is a new feature from fest favorite director Valery Todorovsky (1993’s “Katya Ismailova”) currently titled “The Lover,” due to start shooting this month on a privately sourced budget of around $2 million.

While the digital medium makes product on a tight budget more likely to cover expenses, it’s still a hard sell in a country where, especially among older-generation directors, shooting on film remains a mark of style.

Indeed, Atamalibekov’s sharp sense of the bottom line is rare in an environment where most private film financing comes from exploitation of tax write-off concessions — and where, to put it mildly, profit isn’t a big concern.

Two of UMP’s sidelines, special effects and animation — “one of the rare fields where Russian work has significant export potential,” Atamalibekov says — are examples of his dedication to making film profitable.

Atamalibekov expects his company’s investment on the digital facility — around $1.3 million — to reach breakeven in about 18 months, with demand already healthy from customers in advertising and corporate video.

Atamalibekov is also looking to lure foreign clients, though he knows it will be an uphill battle to convince production partners to risk working further east than the currently popular Central European capitals.

Still, thinking big is what Atamalibekov is all about. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to note he’s also pushing a business plan to develop miniplex exhibition.

“Those who come into the market first have the chance to take a major stake in its future,” Atamalibekov says.

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