Buyers keeping minds open, but wallets shut

Berlin Daily Spotlight: Russian Cinema

Russia may be a big market, yielding rich pickings to the right kind of film, but hitting paydirt is harder than it looks. “Films that truly belong in the A category will make money (in Russia), but there are not many of those among the independents,” says Olga Filipuk, head of acquisitions at Carmen Film, a Moscow-based distributor whose recent acquisitions include “The Kids Are All Right.” Carmen has also pre-bought Wong Kar Wai’s long-delayed “The Grandmasters.”

“The market for mid-range films has gotten harder compared with two or three years ago,” Filipuk says. “A lot of cinemas are not yet properly equipped, which makes competition for digital release quite fierce.”

Meanwhile, art films are not really on the shopping list of the deep-pocketed Russian TV channels for whom Berlin is the year’s first major stopover. They like to test the water, and even get an advance taste of some of the Russian movies they have pre-bought, since production companies don’t like sending out screeners in a country where piracy is rife.

TNT Network is a leading broadcaster in the 14-44 demographic with an output deal with Warner Bros. Its main cash cow, however, is “Dom 2” (House 2), a downmarket reality TV show that has run on the channel every day for five years, earning itself a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

“We really only buy big movies and you rarely find them at film markets,” says TNT’s head of acquisitions Vladimir Voronoff. “But you never know: we sometimes pick up Spanish, English and French movies.” And, while the majors are “quite rigid” when it comes to free TV windows, TNT expects independent distributors to be a little more flexible.

“You never know” could be the Russian catchphrase for the European Film Market this year. “We are still in search of the A-category film for 2012-13,” concludes Filipuk. “For films in the competition and Panorama, our strategy is to screen and then make a decision. At the year’s first market, with the annual budget still far from committed, “We’re quite open to offers and projects.”

Berlin Daily Spotlight: Russian Cinema
Rouble rising in film biz | Buyers keeping minds open, but wallets shut | Russian evolution | Eastern promise