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Gorky targets outside investors

Russian film studio shops for new owners

MOSCOW — As it prepares for its 90th anniversary, Russia’s oldest film studio, Gorky Film, is also getting ready for an unprecedented step for the country’s industry.

Come Feb. 16, the outfit should have new majority owners, after more than a year of a restructuring that now allows the auction of a majority stake in the facility. Because the state retains a standard 25% plus one share holding, however, it’s not exactly a controlling stake.

With a starting price of 123 million rubles ($4.3 million), and live — as opposed to envelope — bidding, it should be an interesting moment for director Stanislav Ershov. He’s hoping an investor will come through with cash, to the tune of around $16 million, to update the studio’s capacity and potential opportunities.

Though Ershov won’t speculate on potential bidders, the money may well be on television players. Gorky’s handy position near Ostankino, as well as its direct cable link to that broadcasting center, looks attractive. Aside from a rich heritage of features over the years, especially in kidpics, it’s also backed TV projects like Tatiana Lioznova’s now-classic 1973 spy series “17 Moments of Spring.”

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Though its record may be impressive, Ershov — who came in as a crisis manager just over two years ago — is looking toward the future, particularly given the studio’s troubled previous decade, including problems with the outfit’s previous two toppers. Signs of a turnaround are evident, with a new Dolby sound studio and laboratory facilities scheduled for February openings.

The studio’s position and move toward privatization was also dictated by deals cut in the 1990s (extended to 2018) which sold rights to all television screenings of Gorky’s pre-1991 Soviet library to a subsidiary of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most holding.

There’s a similar situation at Lenfilm, which is slated for comparable privatization, although on a slower timescale. The main exception remains Mosfilm, Russia’s largest studio, which Karen Shakhnazarov has stated will remain in its existing state.

For Gorky’s Ershov, those aren’t the principal questions now. Aside from upgrading the facility, he’s trying to bring a group of associate partners, from production houses to visual special effects houses, into the system to create a diverse facility where clients can choose exactly what services they want.

The studio is also ramping up its production investments. It was part investor, along with state and private funding bodies, on last year’s Russian competition entry in the Venice fest, Svetlana Proskurina’s “Remote Access.”

On the creative side, Ershov knows he’s got one advantage: Gorky neighbors Russia’s premier film school, VGIK. He speaks of his attempts to “break down the wall” between them, making for a situation in which VGIK graduates will naturally return to Gorky.

It’s not the only piece of reconstruction he’s aiming for. Gorky’s main, classical-style entrance has long been closed — but Ershov is determined to reopen it in time for the 90th anniversary.