MOSCOW — Billy Bob Thornton has climbed on board “Jayne Mansfield’s Car,” the first English-language project from producer Alexander Rodnyansky, one of Russia’s top film biz figures.
The $12 million family comedy/drama focuses on relations between two families, one American, the other British, in Texas during the tumultuous years of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.
It marks a new departure for Rodnyansky, who has produced a string of Russian-language films that have collectively grossed more than $100 million.
Directed, co-starring and co-written by Thornton with longtime writing partner Tom Epperson (“One False Move,” “Sling Blade”), the movie is being shot in Georgia, U.S., where filmmakers can take advantage of tax incentives.
The pic stars Robert Duvall, John Hurt, Kevin Bacon, Robert Patrick, Frances O’Connor and Ray Stevenson. Rodnyansky’s company AR Films will produce along with Geyer Kosinski for Media Talent Group.
Rodnyansky, who began his career in television — founding Ukrainian channel 1+1 before going on to head top Russian commercial channel CTC — has produced more than 20 TV series and 30 films, including “Driver for Vera,” “9th Company” and “The Inhabited Island,” as well as this year’s Berlin competition entry “Innocent Saturday” and “Elena,” which screened in Cannes in Un Certain Regard.
Rodnyansky is developing an international strategy focused on distribution, co-production and co-finance, he said.
“Once I realized how difficult it is for Russian movies to travel, I started thinking about the international market,” Rodnyanksy told Variety.
“I’m looking at different options, not just a single project strategy — although in this case I loved the script.
“Generally I am looking at a multi-movie strategy, long-term and equity deals.”
Rodnyansky, whose AR Films controls production company Non-Stop Productions, indie distrib Cinema Without Borders, and licensing and distrib A Company, also runs the Russian Open Film Festival Kinotavr in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
He says he wants to build an “international production platform,” starting with distribution platforms in Russia, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
Producing high-quality films in America is key to his vision.
“We can learn a lot and find a lot of synergy there,” he said.
As for Russia — his current project, a 3D story set during three days of the epic World War II battle of Stalingrad, starts shooting near St. Petersburg later this summer.
Starring an international cast that includes August Diehl, who played SS officer Major Hellstrom in the basement card-game scene in “Inglourious Basterds,” the film, directed by Fedor Bondarchuk, is due for a 2013 release.