Afghan war epic breaks Russian records

Bondarchuk movie takes $21 mil in 18 days

MOSCOW — Fyodor Bondarchuk’s Afghan war drama “9th Company” marched into Russian B.O. record books Oct. 17, taking $20.82 million over its first 18 days. Pic was released on 422 prints, a record in itself, and sold 5.2 million tickets.

Industry insiders predict pic could scoop up to $9 million more during release, given strong word of mouth. B.O. for its second weekend fell just 14.6%.

“9th Company” took over the lead in the all-time B.O. chart from another native pic, helmer Djanik Faisiyev’s “The Turkish Gambit,” which scored $19.26 million in the spring. Both pics were released by local player Gemini Film International, which also reps Fox product in Russia.

The success of Bondarchuk’s pic looks more impressive still as it didn’t receive the subsidized blanket TV ad support of “Gambit” — the latter was produced by leading national TV station Channel One.

Instead, “9th Company” was put together by Russia’s Slovo production company with Art Pictures Group, TV channel CTC and some state coin, as well as Ukraine’s 1+1 TV channel and the Ukraine Media Group, and Finland’s Matila Rohr Productions. Producers were Slovo’s Elena Yatsura and Sergei Melkumov, with Alexander Rodnyansky of CTC and 1+1.

Budget was $9 million, high by local standards, but Bondarchuk and his producers have proved that bigger is better.

Pic’s shoot, lensed in Crimea and Uzbekistan, came in at more than $4 million, with sound post-production was completed at Britain’s Pinewood studios. It was only the second Russian pic to work at that facility – the first was the massive 1970 war epic “Waterloo” from Sergei Bondarchuk, father of “9th Company” helmer Fyodor.

Russian auds have been responding to the emotional impact of the story of a group of conscripts who go through harsh training before they’re thrown into conflict in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, critics have noted Bondarchuk’s adept assimilation of some stylistic and technical elements from foreign war film fare.

“The film is shot to a well-tested American recipe, both technologically and ideologically – along the latter lines, the soldiers have much to be proud of, even if the country itself has nothing to be proud of,” wrote one critic.

Gemini will rep the film internationally, as they did with last year’s Russian B.O. leader Timur Bekmambetov’s “Night Watch.”

Exact sales strategy looks still to be confirmed. Pic isn’t booked into the AFM, suggesting Gemini will shop print around Hollywood. Company took this route last year with “Night Watch,” securing a deal with Fox Searchlight.

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