Film's backers drop out as snow fails to fall

Maverick Russian director Aleksei Balabanov is struggling to begin shooting an adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel of drugs and revolution titled “Morfii,” based on a screenplay by the late Sergei Bodrov Jr., after one backer was jailed and the other disappeared in China.

To make matters worse, the $3.6 million pic — set during the civil war that raged after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution — demands lots of snow and in this year’s mild winter in Russia, Mother Nature isn’t cooperating.

Producer Sergei Selyanov, of St. Petersburg’s CTB, in Berlin for sales and co-production talks, said $1.5 million had been promised by a underworld kingpin who much admired Balabanov’s work.

The wealthy crook, whom Selyanov declined to name, even had a small part in Balabanov’s last film, “Cargo 200,” a grim story of rape and murder set in the dying days of the Soviet Union. But the money and the man went missing when Moscow crimefighters flew a 70-strong team of armed officers to St. Petersburg to arrest the mafia boss.

He is now in jail awaiting trial for a wide slate of serious crimes, Selyanov said.

The other backer – who had also pledged $1.5 million – is a wealthy businessman who has gone missing in China with his wife and family following a business dispute.

There’s no lack of snow in China right now, but Selyanov, who had planned to start location filming in Yaroslavl (near Moscow) this week with his own money, said initial photography has been put back to Saturday after the white stuff in Russia all melted last weekend.

“It’s a winter movie with 30 of its 45 shooting days on location and right now we have no snow in Russia. Global warming is more a problem than the money,” Selyanov told Variety.

The producer hopes to find the cash before next winter and, in the meantime, is praying for snowfall so he and Balabanov can get something in the can before the arrival of spring rains and the attendant treacherous swamp-like muds known in Russia as raputitsa.

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