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Helmer dips into media mix

Serebrennikov branches out to stage, opera, television

MOSCOW — Taking home the Rome Film Fest grand prize for absurdist black comedy “Playing the Victim,” Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov hit the jackpot with his first official film. But with a multitude of projects under way for the stage, opera and television as well, the 37-year old helmer could just be the territory’s new Franco Zefferelli.

“Playing the Victim” also took the grand prize at the top local Russian fest in June, and is already booked into fests around the world.

But Serebrennikov clearly isn’t satisfied with limiting himself to film. Moscow’s Sovremennik Theater has just premiered his adaptation of “Antony and Cleopatra,” with an exaggerated emphasis on the sexual conflict between East and West, and explicit references to today’s conflict in the Mideast.

“It becomes a play about how the two poles conflict, how their relationship drives on toward destruction,” the director told Variety earlier this year. “And how, from that spark, the world breaks down — even leading to the Twin Towers.”

Earlier this year, Serebrennikov made his opera debut with a production of Verdi’s “Falstaff” at St. Petersburg’s prestigious Mariinsky Theater — a direction he’s looking to pursue, likely on the international scene.

Not bad for a former physics major who got his start in local theaters in his native Rostov, in the south of Russia. He moved to Moscow at the beginning of the decade, with a stage adaptation of Vasily Sigarev’s scandalous play “Plasticine.” That was followed by regular work at the famed Moscow Art Theater, with productions ranging from classics by Maxim Gorky to foreign fare from Tennessee Williams to the first Russian production of contempo Brit playwright Mark Ravenhill’s “Some Explicit Polaroids.”

Although nurtured in theater for more than a decade, Serebrennikov took naturally to the screen, finding inspiration in his childhood visits to the local film club — a Soviet cultural institution that screened offbeat, arthouse and sometimes even officially supressed movies.

His film and TV career got off to a somewhat rocky start, however. The 2000 television series “Rostov-Papa” was probably too ambitious for its time, he says, while he is still rankled by his experience two years ago making an adaptation of Chekhov’s story “Ward Number Six” that was ultimately released as “Ragin.” The final version of the film was edited by its producers, with Serebrennikov credited only as the “director of the shooting process.”

“Playing the Victim” has been much more successful (although local box office wasn’t stellar, the pic was sold to top broadcaster Channel One). Produced on a minimal budget of roughly $750,000, with about half of that figure coming from the state, the pic is the first work in a multifilm project called “New People.”

Part of the project’s mandate is to bring local modern stage work to the screen. “Victim” was an adaptation of his Moscow Arts Theater production written by Oleg and Vladimar Presnyakov. Also on deck for the format-hopping Serebrennikov is a film version of the Presnyakovs’ timely “Terrorism,” which has already played well on stages around the world.

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