Russian Production Embraces Genre Movies as Well as Arthouse and Family Pics

This year, 831 Loews is home to the “Created in Moscow” brand, which allies 17 Russian companies. The branding is supported by the Moscow Export Center, which recognizes the contribution made by the creative industries to the Russian economy. The “Created in Moscow” lineup will be featured in a presentation on the Venice stage at the Loews building on Nov. 7 at 10 a.m.

Although Russia has many fine arthouse auteurs, at AFM buyers can find a strong selection of commercial, mainstream titles from Russia, including many genre pics and CG animated features.

Eugenia Markova, director of industry relations at Russia’s Expocontent, says: “Russia is facing year-on-year 20% sales growth on the global market. The local film industry is not only about art-house and animation – although these two are traditionally strong. Russia is producing more and more original content of all types and genres, targeting wider audiences.”

Art Pictures Studio is selling helmer Fedor Bondarchuk’s “Invasion,” a sequel to his 2017 blockbuster “Attraction,” about an alien spaceship landing in Moscow. It is in post and due to hit Russian cinemas in January 2020. Another Bondarchuk title, “Fedor Konyukhov,” about the titular character’s 2016 solo air balloon voyage around the world, is in development.

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Bondarchuk, who has had several big box-office hits in his home market, including “Stalingrad,” has his sights firmly set on repeating the feat abroad. “Art Pictures produces films for a wide audience,” he told Variety at Cannes. The company’s global sales, he noted, have been steadily rising in recent years. “We’re shooting not just for the domestic market, but to make it international.” “Attraction” sold to more than 80 territories.

Bondarchuk’s films are notable for their world-class visual effects, a selling point shared by many other Russian films at AFM, and their sales companies echo Bondarchuk’s ambition to appeal to mainstream audiences around the world.

As usual, Central Partnership has a strong lineup at AFM, including the period crime thriller “The Ninth,” from producer Alexander Rodnyansky (Oscar nominated for Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Leviathan” and “Loveless”) and director Nikolai Khomeriki. In addition, they have the Rodnyansky-produced drama “Chernobyl. Abyss,” helmed by heart-throb actor Danila Kozlovsky, about a heroic fireman responding to the meltdown at the nuclear power plant. Also eagerly anticipated is the period romance “Silver Skates,” the debut feature of Mikhail Lokshin. It’s set in 1899 St. Petersburg and follows the relationship of a baker’s delivery boy and the daughter of a wealthy family.

Central Partnership is also selling the Premier Studios sci-fi thriller “The Blackout,” helmed by Egor Baranov, due in Russian theaters in November. The story takes place in the near future with life on earth mostly wiped out and a small outpost of mankind in Eastern Europe struggling to survive.

Central Partnership recently sold North American and Latin American rights for “Baba Yaga. Terror of the Dark Forest,” a horror film produced by Rodnyansky and Sergei Melkumov, to Ledafilms.

The slate of Mars Media Entertainment, which released last year’s World War II hit “T-34,” includes several other WWII dramas, such as Igor Kopylov’s “Unknown Battle,” which is in post, and Kostya Stat’s “Secret Weapon,” about the Russian rocket launcher nicknamed Katyusha. They also boast the family film “A Dog Named Palma,” inspired by the true story of a canine forgotten at the airport, directed by Alexander Domogarov Jr.

Repping more adult fare is “Sabre Dance,” a Russian-Armenian co-production that shows how composer Aram Khachaturyan wrote his most famous musical piece in 1942, in the midst of war, in just eight hours. Yusup Razykov directs.

Mint Films Intl. brings producer-director Alexey Uchitel’s passion project “Tsoi,” currently in production and set for a 2020 release date. It follows the aftermath of the death on Aug. 15, 1990 of Viktor Tsoi, the Soviet Union’s most famous rock star, a symbol of freedom and change, who died in an accident on a Latvian highway. They are also selling Uchitel’s “Coronation,” a TV mini-series, about the future Tsar Nicolas II and his ballerina mistress Mathilde.

Vega Film is selling “The Conference,” a more mainstream offering by hitherto auteur director Ivan I. Tverdovskiy (“Jumpman,” “Zoology”). Now in pre-production, the project centers on the October 2002 terrorist attack on Moscow’s Dubrovka Theatre Center and subsequent siege.

Russian titles geared to the more art-house end of the distribution spectrum normally sell at markets connected to “A” festivals rather than at AFM. Wendy Lidell, Sr. VP of theatrical at U.S. distributor Kino Lorber, says the company picked up “Beanpole” out of the Cannes Film Festival, where Kantemir Balagov was named best director in the Un Certain Regard section, and the film won the Fipresci prize.

“It’s an astounding film that combines exquisite visuals, historical context, impeccable acting and deeply felt emotion in one jaw-dropping package,” Lidell says. “It was just icing on the cake when Russia chose ‘Beanpole’ as its entry for the best international feature Oscar.”

“Beanpole” producer Rodnyansky uses Central Partnership to sell his genre films and works with the French company Wild Bunch on his arthouse titles such as “Beanpole,” and his productions with Zvyagintsev. For this part of his business, he is focusing on growing and nurturing young directors from Russia, Central and Eastern European countries, and countries of the former USSR.

He says, “It is less of a strategy and more of a realization that the new generation has something significant to tell us about the world. Kantemir Balagov in this respect is a truly unique and new voice. And so is Kira Kovalenko, who is an incredibly talented young female director; she studied with Kantemir under Aleksandr Sokurov. We have just finished her feature film. And so is Vladimir Bitokov, whose next film I will be producing. And so is Ismail Safarali – a young director from Azerbaijan, whose first feature film I produced, and which will premiere next year.”

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