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Russian B.O. rockets

'Matrix' fuels huge jump in revs

MOSCOW — Growth at Russian box office continues at a stellar rate after spring release grosses jumped 34% over the equivalent period last year.

Figures cited by local trade publication Film Business for the period March 3-June 1 pegged grosses at $43.66 million vs. $32.61 million for the previous year.

“The Matrix Reloaded” broke local records both for both the number of prints (184), and for best launch ($3.85 million over four days). By June 8, total B.O. had hit to $8.87 million, with pic still in release.

While the first film in the “Lord of the Rings” franchise took top place last year with $7.15 million, second installment “The Two Towers” has already earned $9.05 million after 130 days in release.

By June 1, 16 films had already earned more than $1 million at the B.O. compared with a total of 23 for the whole of 2002.

Projections from Daniil Dondurei, editor of Film Art magazine, are that grosses for 2003 will hit around $180 million compared with $112 million for 2002.

Growth is being stimulated not only by rising local standards of living, but by the opening of new screens, principally mall-based multiplexes, which are springing up, in local parlance, like mushrooms after rain. “In 1996, for the number of renovated, Dolby-equipped screens in the country, Russia exceeded only Albania in Europe. By 2007, with a projected national total of around 1,000, we will be in the top five, after France, Germany, the U.K. and Italy. Russia is already number one in Eastern Europe,” Dondurei said.

Producer, director and businessman Alexander Atanesyan (“24 Hours”) speaks of a “huge investment development program,” where exhibbers can hope for an annual profit margin of 40% – 80%. It will be at least four to five years before the market looks in danger of becoming overscreened, he says, adding that 95% of total box office comes from the territory’s state-of-the-art venues with the rest from older cinemas.

But for local productions, the situation remains gloomy. U.S. titles accounted for 55% of all releases last year, and garnered 87.5% of box office. In 2002, Russian films accounted for 16% of all releases but took in only 5.5% of the total B.O.

That has led some to call for quotas — most notably from Karen Shakhnazarov, director of top facility Mosfilm — but all distributors contacted by Daily Variety were strongly opposed to such an idea. Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi is also against any kind of quotas, although Russian president Vladimir Putin has made remarks that suggest favorable treatment for local product.

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