For an industry that relies on theatrical releases for up to 80% of its revenue, it was perhaps inevitable that 2020 would be a challenging year for the Russian film biz, as the coronavirus pandemic shuttered cinemas throughout the spring and summer, and theaters subsequently reopened at reduced capacity.
But Evgenia Markova, head of the state film promotion body Roskino, sees a silver lining in the industry’s resilience in the face of such an existential threat. “The Russian industry has learned to adapt to all the new circumstances,” she says. “It became more flexible, and more responsive to the needs of the global market.”
Since the end of this summer’s lockdown, Russian production has continued apace, with local streaming services stepping in to fill the theatrical void. “The good thing is that the platforms are growing, and they’re also becoming more active in terms of buying films as well,” says Markova, pointing to the success of the sci-fi thriller “Sputnik,” which premiered exclusively and digitally on local streamers more.tv, Wink and Ivi in April, after being selected for the Tribeca Film Festival.
Roskino, meanwhile, has tried “to help the industry keep afloat with all means we have,” she says, spear-heading efforts to give local producers a more visible presence in the international market.
Central to that mission was this summer’s virtual edition of the Key Buyers Event, a showcase for the latest Russian productions which attracted a host of international buyers, including RTL Group, AMC Networks, CGV Mars, Wild Bunch, Beta Film, and Chinese streaming service iQIYI.
Markova estimates that roughly 90% of the leading Russian industry players took part in the event. “The fact that we managed to unite the industry in this movement abroad, I think it’s very important,” she says. “The product is very important, as well. But in some cases, you definitely need to develop some strategies together.”
Another soon-to-be-launched initiative is the Russian Film Festival, an online fest that will unspool in November and December in Australia, Mexico, Spain and Brazil. The event will showcase a range of Russian titles across a variety of genres, including Kantemir Balagov’s Cannes Un Certain Regard player “Beanpole,” Oleg Trofim’s romantic sports drama “Ice,” and two films from the blockbuster “Snow Queen” animated franchise.
The goal, says Markova, is not only to showcase Russian content in foreign markets, but to help the Russian industry “better understand consumer needs” by identifying what type of content works best in those territories.
The festival will expand to other countries next year, with Roskino identifying 20 key markets that Markova calls a “top priority.” “We’re going to develop more tight connections toward these markets, and work more closely with all types of players in these markets,” she says. “We plan to make Russia more transparent for foreign partners, and to make foreign partners…and their needs more transparent for Russian companies.”
Next year TV series will also be added to the festival program, tapping into what Markova sees as a promising trend. “The demand from the platforms for Russian content is really growing, and definitely Russian sellers took this opportunity and started working more closely with them,” she says. “Many VOD platforms started to consider Russian content as a competitive product.”
Markova sees proof of the global appetite for Russian content in shows like “Gold Diggers,” which was the first Russian series acquired by Amazon Prime for distribution in Europe, and the plague thriller “To the Lake,” which appeared on Netflix’s top 10 list in more than 50 countries worldwide. “This is an unprecedented success for a Russian series,” she says. “Those types of cases inspire us even more.”