Upcoming projects include German film 'Baikonur'

CANNES — International co-production is taking off in Russia as the country opens its doors to cross-border projects.

The introduction of government coin for cooperative ventures, bilateral treaties and membership in Europe’s co-prod and distribution promotion club Eurimages, which Russia joined in March, are pumping production.

The number of co-productions — around five or six annually apart from 2008 when 17 were made — is set to jump after the head of Russia’s new Cinema Fund, Sergey Tolstikov, announced that $8 million a year would be set aside for international projects.

A total of 27 projects are to be shot this year, among them German director Veit Helmer’s “Baikonur” set in and around the Russian space rocket launch station in Kazakhstan.

The Kremlin’s backing for international movie projects was evident at Cannes this year: officials from the Cinema Fund took part in events at the Russian Pavilion and new, user-friendly publications from the fund — packed with facts and figures — were in plentiful supply.

The mindset is a startling turnaround for a Russian film industry that largely ignored co-prods and focused on its 90-100 domestic features a year.

Results can be seen with Bakur Bakuradze’s “The Hunter,” which was pitched at the first co-prod forum in 2009, and is one of two Russian films in Un Certain Regard this year.

It’s a sea change from the opaque approach of old when any information – particularly financial figures – were all but impossible to obtain.It is reflected in moves such as the appointment, announced during Cannes, of Russian television personality and Russian pavilion artistic director, Ekaterina Mtsitouridze, as general director of Sovexportfilm, Russia’s international film promotion body.

Sovexportfilm will rebrand itself and establish relations with some of the largest international cinema companies, such as German Films, Indian Film, and UniFrance, Mtsitouridze said.

Showcasing Russian film at Cannes – where there has been a national pavilion since 2008 – had served an important function, but now was the time to add to that by building “a new image of Russia to the world.”

The move has the support of powerful figures in Russia, including culture minister, Alexander Avdeev, head of the ministry’s cinema department Vycheslav Tyelnov and former finance minister and now head of state bank Sberbank, the main sponsor of the Russian pavilion, of German Gref, Mtsitouridze added.

Elena Romanova, head of the international department at the national cinema fund, credits new agreements on co-productions with Italy’s Cinecitta Luce, the creation of Russian-German and Russian-French Film Academies and Eurimages entry, as key factors.A guide of filmmakers keen for co-prods lists such Russian producers as Leonid Vereschagin, head of Nikita Mikhalkov’s shingle Studio Tri-te; Sergey Selyanov, who produced “Mongol”; Fedor Bondarchuk; and Alexander Rodnyansky, producer of Andrey Svyagintsev’s new film “Elena.”

Bonarchuk, in Cannes last week, with Cinema Invest co-founder Eduard Pichugin, launched “Kinoclub” to establish a network of educational and cultural centers across Russia’s regions. It is part of a national forum Russian Cinema 2020 that aims to unite key players across the Russian film industry to guarantee its sustainable development and increase competitiveness on the global market.

A long-awaited Russian-German co-prod treaty is on the verge of being inked after issues around the translation of technical terms were resolved. The treaty could be a major spur to more projects between the two countries, which in the past five years have been responsible for 11 co-prods — the largest single number for any partner.

And China is the target of a fund, launched last week at Cannes. Andrey Smirnov, president of Sistema Mass Media, one of the major companies involved, says Russia’s long history with China offered rich possibilities for movies.

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