Rodnyansky revealed details of two new projects to Variety during the Berlinale Series Market, just days after Fox Entertainment acquired U.S. rights to AR Content’s upcoming epic action show “Khan: The Series,” as Variety previously reported.
“The Doghead” is a series loosely based on the book of the same name by best-selling author Alexey Ivanov, whose previous works adapted for the big screen include Cannes Un Certain Regard prize winner “Tsar.”
The series follows Kirill, a homebody historian who prefers stability to change or adventure, but who travels to a remote village to look for his lost girlfriend. Her disappearance is just the first in a chain of mysterious events that started in the 17th century around an enigmatic fresco of an ancient spirit known as the Doghead.
After a mystical object is discovered in the village, the inhabitants are granted incredible power of which they’re unaware. It is Kirill who will ultimately be the one to solve the ancient mystery.
“Genre-wise, this is a thriller set in the Russian ‘middle of nowhere’ filled with monsters, cryptic rituals and cult objects. But when we look closely, it’s really a story about freedom of choice, both in a personal and civic sense,” said Rodnyansky.
“It’s very entertaining. It’s dramatic. It’s contemporary. At the same time, it brings together Russian history, traditions, mythologies, and contemporary characters. It’s a story about freedom of choice, and the protagonist is about to make his choice,” he added.
“The World of Tomorrow” takes place in St. Petersburg in a future that has been ravaged by constant pandemics. Declared a safe haven by the Russian government, the city is divided into three zones whose inhabitants are separated by vaccination status. This experiment makes St. Petersburg the most desired place to live on the planet.
“The Green Zone is absolutely safe – you live like you did before the pandemic. It is kind of the Hong Kong of the North. This is a multi-ethnic metropolis where Chinese, Korean, Japanese, French, and even Americans now live together,” said Rodnyansky. “The unvaccinated live in the Red Zone. This is the lawless area, and of course, filled with crime and disease.” Travel between zones is heavily restricted. Ruling over the city is an all-powerful law enforcement agency known as the Sanitary Service.
“The World of Tomorrow” begins with the murder of one of the most important people in the city: the CEO of a major pharmaceutical company. A young surgeon, Jia – half-Russian and half-Chinese – is framed for his murder. But the detective who sent her to prison begins to have doubts.
“That’s how the story starts. But the world, the universe, makes me excited,” said Rodnyansky. “This story is very unusual, because it brings together the very historic magnificence of St. Petersburg in a near future fueled by the same challenges we face right now.”
Also on the company’s slate is “Debriefing the President,” an adaptation of former CIA analyst John Nixon’s firsthand account of the interrogation of Saddam Hussein. The series will launch some 20 years after the former Iraqi leader’s 2003 capture.
“History has proven these events as formative for the history of the world, as well as the Middle East,” said Rodnyansky. “John Nixon’s story is like a psychological thriller of the highest stakes: a man’s life, the fate of the region, and a superpower’s national idea of itself.”
The producer described the psychological drama as “‘Zero Dark Thirty’ meets ‘Frost vs. Nixon.’” First conceived as a feature film, Rodnyansky is now developing “Debriefing the President” as a four-hour limited series with Academy Award nominee Ziad Doueiri (“The Insult”) attached to direct.
The producer said Doueiri was “the first person I called” after optioning Nixon’s book. The two had met during the 2018 Oscar race, when both Doueiri’s “The Insult” and the Rodnyansky-produced “Loveless” were competing for the Academy Award.
“For him, it’s personally important,” Rodnyansky said of the Lebanese-born director, who fled that country with his family during the civil war in the 1980s. “That’s why he’s extra enthusiastic about this story. With Doueiri’s background, energy and command of his craft, I knew immediately that he was the perfect choice for this show.”
Known for producing acclaimed, arthouse films including Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Academy Award nominees “Leviathan” and “Loveless” and Un Certain Regard prize winners “Beanpole,” by Kantemir Balagov, and “Unclenching the Fists,” by Kira Kovalenko, Rodnyansky has increasingly been focusing on high-end series through his Los Angeles-based AR Content, which he launched in 2018.
Last year the company inked a first-look deal with Apple for a slate of both Russian-language and multilingual shows for Apple TV Plus, set both inside and outside Russia, and creatively led by both Russian and international writers and directors.
“As producers and filmmakers, we are going through the most exciting time in history,” Rodnyanksy said. “I never remember a time when content is so needed, and when borders are crossed in both directions.
“We live in a world where Hollywood used to distribute content from Los Angeles all over the world. Right now, we have a chance to tell local stories, produced in different countries and distributed by global platforms to all audiences at the same time,” he added. “This is a unique possibility we never had before.”
Other projects in development from AR Content include “Frozen Land,” a series about a Russian serial killer that’s told through the eyes of the killer’s devoted fiancé and then wife; and “Red Rainbow,” which is based on a true story set in 1977 about three young gay activists from West Berlin who are invited to Moscow on an official visit, not realizing that homosexuality is a crime in the Soviet Union. The project was the winner of last year’s co-production pitching competition at Series Mania.