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Former Soviet satellites struggle to maintain orbit

Cinema on comeback trail despite lack of funds, auds

The cinema of the former Soviet states remains a well-kept secret — and its survival is almost a miracle.

Cut adrift from collaboration with Moscow, starved of funds and viewers, this cinema nevertheless kept going, and, if developments in Russia filter out to surrounding territories , an upswing may be in sight.

In Central Asia, international involvement has been crucial, with the region’s few works appearing on the fest circuit. Although Euro and Japanese producers are looking for new talent, many of region’s name directors can be found in Paris or Berlin more often than they can be found at home.

Tadjikistan’s Bakhtiar Khudonazarov is now working in Europe or Russia on co-productions like “The Suit” and “Luna Papa.” Fellow countryman Djamshed Usmonov found support from Venice’s Fabrica facility for “Angel on the Right.”

In Tashkent, director Yusup Razykov (“The Orator”) is bringing the country’s Uzbek Film Studios back to life — and there, at least, something of a local market exists.

Tiny Krygizia has a strong international reputation because of pics such as Aktan Abdykalykov’s “The Chimp.”

Region’s major player is Kazakhstan, given the ties between Moscow and its capital Almata. Russian director Sergei Bodrov worked at Kazakh Film through the 1980s, and he’s been back recently as producer and co-scripter on Gulshat Omarova’s Cannes out-of-competition player “Schizo,” which picked up best actor nom for Olzhas Nusuppaev at Tokyo.

Majority-funded from Russia, “Schizo” typifies an emerging phenomenon of co-productions with Moscow.

Bodrov is expected to start the $12 million epic Ghengis Khan saga “Mongol,” which he scripted, in the region next summer. It’s a co-prod with CTB’s Sergei Selyanov of Russia. For now, Bodrov’s finishing shooting on the biggest project in the region, the English-language “Nomad.”

Situation is quieter down in the Caucasus, where drastic funding problems exist. Vigen Chaldranyan’s works, such as “Symphony of Silence,” go down better in Paris than his native Yerevan.

Azeri helmer Vagif Mustafayev scored a popular hit with “National Bomb,” co-funded with Russia, while Murat Imbragimbekov has been on the scene in Moscow and Berlin.

Decline in Georgia’s rich film heritage has been evident, though that may change as a result of recent political developments; meanwhile, veterans Otar Ioseliani (“Monday Morning”) and Nana Djordjadze (“27 Missing Kisses”) continue apace, with help from France and Germany.

Activity in slavic Ukraine and Belarus is muted, though Minsk and Kiev studios host Russian helmers looking for quality and price. Ukrainian veteran activity has been more successful than debuts so far, with Russian-language fare from Roman Balayan (“Bright Night”) and Kira Muratova (Venice player “The Piano Tuner”), who’s going strong at 70, leading the pack.

In the Baltics, both Latvia and Estonia co-produce through Eurimages — and with each other. (Political developments have frustrated attempts by Russia and Ukraine to join the organization.) Recent national fare has gone down well in territories, too: Latvia’s 2000 “Dangerous Summer” from Aigars Grauba, as well as Estonia’s 2002 “Names in Stone,” both topped local box office.

Estonian producer Kristian Taska has just wrapped thriller “We Will Not Sleep Tonight,” helmed by her father Ilmar. Biggest current project from Riga is Grauba’s follow-up historical drama, “Defenders of Riga.”

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