Powerhouse producers Valeriy Fedorovich and Evgeniy Nikishov, the creative duo behind Netflix’s first Russian original series, “Anna K,” quietly left 1-2-3 Production in early March and are now focused on their Moscow-based shingle MC2.
Though the announcement was formally made just days removed from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Fedorovich said the plan to leave the Gazprom-Media-backed production outfit had been set in motion long ago.
“When we set up our own company, it was clear that we [would] have to say goodbye to 1-2-3 Production,” Fedorovich told Variety. “We used to work for others; now we want to work for ourselves.”
As the co-heads of the Moscow-based outfit which they launched in 2018, Fedorovich and Nikishov were the creative force behind the plague thriller “To the Lake,” a series that made top 10 lists across the globe after it was acquired by Netflix, and wrapped production last year on the streamer’s first original Russian drama series, “Anna K,” a contemporary retelling of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel “Anna Karenina.” They were also tapped to produce the Netflix original series “Nothing Special.”
But the war in Ukraine, which entered its fourth month this week, has left many high-profile Russian film and TV projects in limbo, as global streaming platforms, international distributors and a range of industry partners have either suspended or pressed pause on their Russian operations.
Fedorovich and Nikishov could not comment on the status of either of the two Netflix series currently in the pipeline. Also uncertain is the fate of “Dreams of Alice,” a supernatural teen drama that the pair pitched at Berlinale Series Market Selects this year.
Last year the duo launched their new production shingle to focus on arthouse films and TV series with international appeal. Their first feature, “Captain Volkonogov Escaped,” premiered in competition at the Venice Film Festival.
They’re now developing the sophomore feature from director Vladimir Munkuev, whose debut “Nuuccha” took the top prize in Karlovy Vary’s East of the West competition last year. “The Fog” stars hot Russian talent Yuriy Borisov (“Compartment No. 6”) and is produced by Fedorovich and Nikishov, along with Aleksandr Plotnikov and Boris Khlebnikov.
Though Russia is increasingly being shut out of the global film and TV industry, some projects that hit the market before the start of the Ukraine war have still managed to land international distribution through pre-existing deals: “Six Empty Seats” (pictured), which is produced by Fedorovich and Nikishov and is being sold internationally by Beta Film, recently launched on Topic, the U.S. streaming service from First Look Media.
Nonetheless, the Russian industry is in a state of limbo when it comes to its partnerships overseas. “International cooperation will be put on ice by 95%,” said Fedorovich. “[But] international companies don’t want to end those relationships; they put them on hold.”
Advertising spending in Russia has plummeted since the invasion of Ukraine, with a slew of Western companies withdrawing from the Russian market. Fedorovich estimates that local broadcasters and streaming platforms have seen their ad revenues drop 50-60% since the start of the war.
Yet the pullout of Google, Netflix and other tech and streaming giants has been a boon to their Russian competitors. “There’s less money, but there’s less places you can spend this money,” he said. “[Russian search giant] Yandex feels great today.”
The competition among upstart Russian streaming services in recent years has driven a boom in local content, as deep-pocketed platforms vie for subscribers by wooing top talents to their services. Yandex launched the KinoPoisk streaming platform in 2018, joining a competitive market that includes the Gazprom-backed streamer Premier; KION, which is owned by Russia’s largest mobile operator, MTS; Okko, which was acquired by the financial giant Sber (formerly known as Sberbank); and a host of fast-growing services including More.tv, Wink and Ivi.
Many of those platforms, as well as Russia’s top media houses, have ties to sanctioned companies and oligarchs. (Gazprom-Media owner Gazprombank is among the state-run companies and private businesses on the sanctions list.)
Fedorovich and Nikishov insisted, however, that the sanctions haven’t yet had an impact on the production industry. On the contrary, Russian streaming services seem determined to ramp up production, while the government is “promising to put even more money in the industry than ever before,” according to Fedorovich.
Whether there’s an international market for such content remains to be seen. At a time when Ukrainian filmmakers at the Cannes Film Festival renewed their calls for a total boycott of Russian culture, Nikishov admits he is “probably a bit idealistic” in his conviction that now is not the time to silence Russian voices.
“The real function of culture is to build bridges,” he said. “We, as filmmakers, would like to tell stories from Russia and about Russia, not only for the Russian-speaking audience, but for the whole world.”