In Russia’s rapidly growing distribution market, top-level indie films — with the right distributor and release strategy — surpass or match Hollywood studio fare. The middle ground is sparser; more determined arthouse films look increasingly desperate for screen space and audience interest, leaving would-be distribs disgruntled at rising asking prices for specialty films. That’s increasingly pushed many indie players toward distributing local fare and expanding into exhibition. With screen space still at a premium, though, many distribs will be looking only for DVD and ancillary rights at AFM.

Central Partnership (CP)
Ruben Dishdishyan
B.O.: $66.8 million
Top pic: “Wolfhound” ($20 million)
In brief: Founded in 1996, CP is the major player on the Russian indie front. It is well-capitalized and aligned with parent company Prof-Media, which is also investing in multiplexes. Strong domestic film and TV production slate dominates over acquisitions. Foreign purchases aimed at top indie product (released via main CP label) as well as at arthouse fare (via CP Digital). The main Russian player at AFM, CP also is the main seller of Russian product at markets: AFM screenings include costumers such as Vladimir Khotinenko’s “1612”as well as contempo actioners “Paragraph 78” and “Revenge.”

Gevorg Nersisyan
B.O.: $36.7 million
Top pic: “Resident Evil 3” ($9.1 million)
In brief: Shingle, launched in 1992, favors predominantly European niche acquisitions, prebuying projects by auteurs such as Emir Kusturica. Its ownership of around 30 miniplex screens in and around Moscow (via its Five Stars brand and flagship two-screener Rolan) has made Paradise a leading player locally. Entered into domestic production with last year’s boffo WWII kid drama “Scum.”

Topper: Tigran Dokhalov
$19.4 million
Top pic: “1408” ($3.4 million)
In brief: West’s slate highlights more English-language indie fare than others, currently most dominantly repped by Weinstein Co. product. No sign of support for local production just yet, but West, founded in 1994, controls at least three Moscow screens, including its flagship Orbita venue.

Cascade Film
Stepan Pojenyan
B.O.: $15.3 million
Top pic: “Servant of the Sovereign” ($5.3 million)
In brief: When Sony and Disney set up direct distribution in territory, Cascade opted to remain an independent player. It has sought out local product to distribute, with company’s top results this year being costumer “Servant of the Sovereign” (repped at AFM by CP). Outfit co-distributed some international product this year with Paradise.

Sergei Sendyk
B.O.: $7.2 million
Top pic: “Hostel 2” ($1.5 million)
In brief: Grown out of a TV, DVD and ancillary sales rights company, Pyramid is now active in the theatrical market and runs a number of Moscow cinemas. Acquisitions are broadly focused on English-language product. Distrib has an extensive library.

Kino Bez Granits (Cinema Without Borders) (CWB)
Sam Klebanov
B.O.: $684,000
Top pic: “Reincarnation” ($84,000)
In brief: Shingle has remained Russia’s main arthouse player, though founder Klebanov is the first to admit it’s a precarious role. The Russian-born, now Swedish citizen runs a tight ship through a Gothenburg-based affiliate company. Focus is on Euro festival fare, with a greater emphasis on Asian product than most others in the field. CWB also handles limited releases of local arthouse pics.

Raisa Fomina
B.O.: n/a
Top pic: n/a
In brief: Kept indie fare alive in territory through the lean 1990s, as well as repping local quality product at international markets for more than a decade. Ambitions seem to have been pulled back somewhat with more selective acquisitions. Outfit continues to work with local filmmakers such as Andrei Zvagintsev (2003’s “The Return” and 2007 Cannes actor winner “The Banishment”).

Note: For CWB and Paradise, 2007 B.O. through Oct. 1; for others, B.O. Dec. 1, 2006-Oct 14, 2007

Source: Russian Film Business Today