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Russia plans sci-fi epic

Bondarchuk directing 'Island'

MOSCOW Russian helmer Fyodor Bondarchuk, whose Afghan war drama “9th Company” was territory’s top grosser two years ago, has started shooting his latest project — which looks to be among the priciest pics for Russia to date.

“The Inhabited Island” is an adaptation of a Soviet sci-fi novel by writers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, which started an unprecedented 10-month shoot last week.

Announced budget for the final two-pic result is $28 million, with $18 million for production and $10 million toward P&A.

Production companies involved are local TV channel CTC (which trades on New York’s Nasdaq exchange), through topper Alexander Rodnyansky, alongside Sergei Melkumov and Dmitry Rudovsky, as well as Bondarchuk’s own shingle Art Pictures.

Ukraine-born Rodnyansky was a major producer on “9th Company,” which shot extensively in that country’s Crimea peninsula, where much of shooting of “The Inhabited Island” is set to take place, with extensive military effects as in Bondarchuk’s Afghan drama. The helmer, who made his name as an ad and music vid director in the 1990s, is son of Soviet director Sergei Bondarchuk (“War and Peace”).

Most recently Bondarchuk and Rodnyansky co-produced Rezo Gigineishvili’s comedy “Heat,” which has taken the No. 2 B.O. spot in Russia this year since its end-of-December bow, with results coming in above the $16 million mark to date.

The difference in budgets between the two works is causing some raised brows in Moscow film circles.

“These budgets are going up — and you wonder when they are going to go above the realistic ceiling for profitability, not least because the sheer number of Russian films coming out, reasonably heavily promoted, is grabbing screens around the country,” one industry observer said.

The first installment of “Island” is due out in October 2008, after completion of extensive special effects and post-production work.

Perhaps by then the market will have grown significantly.

At least that’s what Bondarchuk appears to be banking on: “With a population of 150 million, and growth in the number of screens, to release a film on as many as 1,000 prints will become realistic over the next 12-18 months,” he told Variety last year.

Another factor he mentioned was the chance of bringing down the percentage that currently stays with theaters from its current high level of 50% to something lower.

“That makes for a real chance in the near future for up to three Russian films a year to bring in as much as $100 million each at the box office,” Bondarchuk predicted.

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