Roskino topper Evgenia Markova was just weeks into her job at the head of the Russian film promotion body when the coronavirus pandemic struck. With her ambitious plans to mount a splashy showcase for the local industry at this year’s Cannes Film Festival suddenly scrapped, she quickly realized that those plans would have to be revamped on the fly.
Within weeks, Markova and her colleagues scrambled to organize a virtual content market that would showcase the latest Russian productions to international buyers. Based on the template of last fall’s inaugural Key Buyers Event, which hosted buyers from across the globe in Moscow, Roskino developed a program of live presentations, pitches, panel discussions, and matchmaking sessions, along with a dedicated co-development and co-production section and a screening room with more than 150 hours of Russian film, TV, digital and animated content. The event unspools from June 8-15.
The initial response to the digital market, says Markova, was a revelation. “We were very much surprised by the feedback of the industry, by its support and its involvement,” she says. After 30 Russian companies participated in the Moscow event last fall, more than 120 were registered for the digital edition through mid-May. While 50 foreign buyers traveled to Russia in October, nearly 200 registered for the virtual market in just the first week alone, including RTL Group, AMC Networks, CGV Mars, Wild Bunch, Beta Film, and Chinese streaming service iQIYI.
More than simply offering a platform for Russian sellers to showcase their content to global buyers, events like the virtual market are part of a broader effort by Roskino to foster deeper engagement with and understanding of the Russian industry. “Russia, on a global level, lacks transparency,” says Markova. “It’s not really clear for foreign partners who are the players, what is the market about.”
One way Roskino is looking to improve that transparency is by providing more data on the Russian biz, compiling catalogs of producers, sellers, and production services companies, while highlighting projects in search of co-production partners, in order to “help foreign producers find the proper partner for them,” Markova says. Other initiatives being developed would do more to boost the international profile of rising Russian talent.
Such sweeping efforts could have easily been derailed by the dramatic upheaval of recent months. But Markova is focusing on the opportunities instead, noting that the coronavirus pandemic has upended long-held assumptions about how business is done, particularly in an industry that prizes personal connections and facetime at prestigious events like Cannes’ Marché du Film. “This is the mindset: You wait for the event to meet people,” says Markova. “But during the preparations [for the virtual content market], I met so many amazing people from around the globe.”
She adds: “It’s not the Croisette, but it’s still a chance to meet.”