Soaring local box office has pushed the Russian film industry to new heights in recent years, even despite a downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but Vadim Vereshchagin, CEO of leading production and distribution company Central Partnership, says introducing fresh Russian talent to the world remains his outfit’s top priority.
“For us, it’s business as usual—boosting that potential,” Vereshchagin tells Variety. “We’re getting more experience on which titles we should be making. Right now, every big-budget title we make, we’re thinking about the international market as well.” The challenge, he says, “is to get the right stories being made which would be appealing to general international audiences.”
With a library that includes films from top U.S. and European studios, as well as an extensive catalog of arthouse and commercial Russian movies, Central Partnership has been a leading distributor for nearly two decades. After ramping up production in recent years, with an emphasis on high-end commercial titles, it’s now poised to capitalize on a growing international appetite for Russian fare.
“We’re still on track to make these big-budget event films,” he says, pointing to blockbuster productions like the high-octane actioner “Fire,” and “Chernobyl,” an action film about the aftermath of the nuclear power plant meltdown, starring and directed by Danila Kozlovsky (“Vikings”). “Those are big-scale productions, big budgets, very internationally appealing movies.”
Central Partnership will be launching a slate of new titles at the European Film Market, starting with “The World Champion” (pictured), a pulled-from-the-headlines story based on the legendary 1978 chess match between Soviet world champion Anatoly Karpov and the dissident Viktor Korchnoi. Co-produced by Nikita Mikhalkov’s Studio TriTe and pubcaster Russia-1, pic is directed by Alexey Sidorov, who helmed the WWII blockbuster “T-34,” and stars Konstantin Khabensky (“Fire”), Vladimir Vdovichenkov (“Leviathan”), and rising star Ivan Yankovsky (“Fire”).
“December” focuses on the last days of Sergey Yesenin, a famous Russian poet and lover of the American dancer Isadora Duncan, who plans his escape from the Soviet Union. The thriller is set in the captivating noir atmosphere of 1920s Russia, and directed by Klim Shipenko, who helmed last year’s smash comedy “Son of a Rich.” Pic is co-produced by Yellow, Black and White and START, with the support of the Fond Kino Cinema Fund and Kinoprime.
The WWII survival drama “Pilot: A Battle for Survival” centers on a fighter pilot who crash lands in a remote forest clearing after a daring air battle, and is then forced to battle the elements and evade detachments of Nazi soldiers while finding his way back to friendly territory. Starring Pyotr Fedorov (“Stalingrad,” “The Blackout”), the film is set to premiere in May 2021. A very different tale of perseverance, “White Snow” is based on the life of world-renowned Russian skier Elena Vyalbe, telling the story of the hardships and challenges she had to overcome on her rise to the top of the sport.
Central Partnership is also unveiling a slate of genre films, including the horror pic “The Ice Demon,” from the creators of “The Mermaid: Lake of the Dead” and “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest.” It’s the story of a man who returns home after spending years in a coma, only to find that his family has moved on. As strange events begin to unfold, the family realizes that a supernatural force has entered their home. Currently in post-production, pic is set to premiere this fall.
Another autumn premiere will be “Row 19,” a thriller about a young female doctor trapped with her small daughter on a flight during a violent storm. When passengers on the half-empty plane inexplicably begin to die, she’s forced to relive her worst childhood memory.
Finally, the company will look to close more deals on Alexey Nuzhniy’s “Fire,” a big-budget action film about heroic smokejumpers racing against disaster, which as Variety previously reported has sold to North America and a host of other territories, including Germany, Spain, South Korea, and Japan. It will also look for additional sales on “Chernobyl,” which has already sold to North America and a number of other territories, including Spain, Latin America, South Korea, and Japan.
The slate reflects efforts by Central Partnership to adapt to the changing times, with Vereshchagin noting that along with its trademark blockbuster event films, “we’re also considering producing smaller movies, which are not necessarily made for theatrical distribution.”
Though the Russian box office has rebounded in recent months after a turbulent 2020, fueling hopes that local audiences will soon return for the splashy event films that are his company’s calling card, Vereshchagin says the pandemic has helped to accelerate trends that were already in the making.
“There’s a lot of financial sense in producing smaller films…and skip theatrical, and go directly to VOD,” he says. “Obviously, the international market is still open for these films. So is the television distribution. And you can get away with that without spending advertising money on theatrical.” He adds: “The market is there, the market is very healthy.”