Distribs bet on local pix

Film switches co.'s six weeks before release

MOSCOW — After two bona fide hits, distributors of major studio product in Russia are increasingly interested in taking on local product as well.

Gemini Film, which reps Fox in Russia, started the trend toward local product, scoring with Timur Bekmambetov’s “Night Watch” last year and Djannik Faisiev’s “Turkish Gambit” this year.

But more recently, Gemini pickup “The State Counsellor,” adapted from a novel by popular writer Boris Akunin, switched distribs just six weeks before release to rival distrib Caro Premier.

As Gemini had already been screening trailers for “Counsellor” before “Turkish Gambit,” it seemed like a strange move. Observers say the move could have been caused by a possible last-minute dispute between Gemini and “Counsellor” producer Tri-Te, headed by helmer Nikita Mikhalkov, over P&A expenses.

Caro branched out into local distribbing last year with Mosfilm director Karen Shakhnazarov’s 19th-century terrorist drama “Horseman by the Name of Death,” which had tepid B.O. results.

“Counsellor” turned out to be equally lackluster, with only $2.9 million in its first week, substantially less than “Turkish Gambit” and “Night Watch,” which both won auds with extensive, virtually free TV promotion from Channel One.

Gemini remains committed to local pics, a trend it started with submarine drama “72 Meters” in 2004.

“It was a phenomenon we had been looking for for 10 years,” says Gemini’s topper Michael Schlicht.

As Russian distribs often complain that producers can’t deliver on time, he was impressed that for the first time producers had approached distribs in advance, ready to take on suggestions for the final version.

More Russian pics are on the horizon this summer. At the end of May, Kaskad Film, which reps BVI/Columbia in Russia, will take on its first local pic, Petr Khazizov’s “Manga.”

“Manga,” a youth-oriented and alternative-music-driven work helmed by Khazizov, a first-time feature director who doubles as head of Russia’s leading vfx house, will go out with a more cautious 70 prints — against the 350-plus standard for “Gambit” or “Counsellor.”

Gemini has a wide August release set for Afghan-war drama “Ninth Regiment,” a $4-million pic from Elena Yatsura’s Slovo production house, helmed by Fedor Bondarchuk, son of classic Soviet helmer Sergei.