Fox goes it alone in CIS, Russia

Studio absorbs Gemini team

Twentieth Century Fox has taken over distribution of its pics in Russia and CIS territories, making it the third Hollywood studio to go it alone in the rapidly growing market. Disney made that shift April 1 and UIP did so two years ago.

Outfit is headed by Michael Schlicht, topper of previous Fox rep Gemini Film Intl.

Move coincides with B.O. success of Fox’s “Ice Age: The Meltdown.” Pic took $8.58 million in its opening weekend, the biggest bow in the territory for a Fox release, as well as the largest debut for an animated film in Russia and the biggest non-Russian film opening for the equivalent period.

First Fox release will be youth pic “Piter-FM,” from producers Alexander Rodnyansky and Igor Tolstunov, on April 20. That will be followed by “X-Men: The Last Stand” on May 25.

Fox will absorb Gemini employees into its new structure. Gemini will continue to distribute for Fox in Ukraine and Central Asian territories and in the Siberian region of Russia, while Fox will distribute Gemini titles in Russia and other CIS states.

More than two-thirds of Gemini’s B.O. receipts in 2005 — when it topped the Russian distribs chart — came from local product, led by Fyodor Bondarchuk’s Afghan war drama “9th Company,” territory’s No. 1 grosser last year.

“Russia is now one of the top 10 international territories in terms of revenue, and over the last five years we have watched the market grow more than sixfold,” said Christian Grass, Fox’s executive VP for Europe, Middle East and Africa. “The improvements in the exhibition sector and the resurgence of local films has ignited a revival of the Russian film industry.”