As the premier platform for new Russian content, the Key Buyers Event is putting its muscle behind showcasing the hottest Russian talents ready to take off on the global stage.
“Our key goal is to promote top national projects that will put their creators and cast on the spotlight,” said Evgenia Markova, head of Russian film promotion body Roskino, which organizes the event running online June 8-10. “But this year we have also dedicated a stand-alone session to Russian talents and their perspectives on the global scene.”
The session will feature international casting director Frank Moiselle, actor and Key Buyers Event Ambassador Yuri Kolokolnikov, and talent agent Richard Cook, as well as rising actress Sofia Lebedeva and producer Gudny Hummelvoll.
“It is a hot topic to discuss with more global projects coming up, starring Russian actors or featuring Russian creators,” said Markova, pointing to the recent announcement of the lineup for this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which includes six Russian films (including two in the main competition), as further evidence that Russian stars are on the rise.
“From my point of view, Russian talents have their own outlook on the world, which is a mix between their deep cultural roots and, at the same time, their open-mindedness and bravery to talk about complicated issues and explore all kinds of topics that touch people in Russia and worldwide,” she continued. “They aspire to create authentic stories that would reach out to global audiences.”
Here’s a rundown of 12 top Russian talents ready to soar in 2021.
Pictured, from l. to r.: Alexander Kuznetsov, Paulina Andreeva, Yuri Kolokolnikov
Khodchenkova knew from an early age what drew her to acting. “It’s an opportunity to lead an unconventional life,” she says. During her first year of theater school, she caught the eye of a Moscow casting director and was invited to audition for the veteran director Stanislav Govorukhin. He promptly cast her in the lead role of his 2003 feature “Bless the Woman,” and Khodchenkova has been one of Russia’s busiest actors ever since. Her acting credits include “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “The Wolverine,” while she recently wore a producer’s hat for the first time with “Another Name,” directed by Veta Geraskin. Now she’s preparing for her biggest star turn yet, with the title role in “Anna K,” Netflix’s contemporary adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.” Khodchenkova describes it as “a Russian actress’ dream [role],” and calls it “the most incredible moment for me.” Her only hope for whatever the future might bring? “My work will never be boring, regular and mediocre.”
A child chess prodigy, Snigir traveled an unconventional road to acting, stumbling into her first audition while she was working as an English teacher in Moscow. Soon she was appearing in a number of Russian series and films en route to landing the title role in the Russian TV series “Catherine the Great,” before her breakout came in Paolo Sorrentino’s “The New Pope.” The performance earned Snigir the Russian equivalent of an Academy Award, and she says the 15-minute standing ovation after the show’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival was her greatest achievement to date. With her star on the rise, Snigir says her “dream director” to work with would be Yorgos Lanthimos. “I admire the way actors in his films combine spectacular form with deep sense,” she says, “which perfectly matches my nerve as an actress.”
After establishing herself as an actor on both stage and screen, including a role in the Netflix sci-fi series “Better Than Us,” Andreeva shifted gears in 2019, when she took the helm as both writer and director with the short film “Cry With You.” “I was looking for ways to grow professionally,” she says. “I didn’t want to just carry the story as an actress, I also wanted to be able to create it and invent new worlds.” Last year Andreeva took a career leap as the screenwriter for the eight-part series “Psycho,” director Fedor Bondarchuk’s first foray into dramatic series, for Russian streaming service More.tv. “It was a really important statement of self-expression for me as my debut; something quite open and raw,” says Andreeva. The multi-talented multi-hyphenate insists, however, that it’s only the beginning. “I would like to combine my acting career with my passion for screenwriting,” she says. “I have lots of plans in mind.”
From a young age, Mulmenko knew she’d found her calling as a writer. “I just adored inventing the characters and the worlds they live in,” she says. With time, that desire grew into different modes of expression that allowed her to “share my existential experiences,” not only to tell a story but “to learn even more in the process.” In 2014, Mulmenko made her screenwriting debut with a trio of drama films that screened in festivals including Rotterdam, San Sebastian and Karlovy Vary, and recently worked with Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen on the Trans-Siberian Railway drama “Compartment No. 6,” which will have its world premiere in competition in Cannes. She’s currently working on her directorial debut, “The Danube,” slated to be released later this year. “All I hope is to continue with storytelling,” she says, “but I’d like to write less for others and make more films myself.”
An accomplished violinist, Manzheeva always thought she would be a musician. But after stepping onto a movie set for the first time, everything changed. “At some point I realized I couldn’t not do it, not create worlds out of feelings and thoughts,” she says. The first filmmaker from the Russian republic of Kalmykia, Manzheeva saw her feature debut, “Seagulls,” travel to more than 30 countries after premiering in the Forum strand of the Berlinale. In the process, “I found my voice and told the world about my culture,” she says, putting her native Kalmykia “on the global filmmaking map.” Manzheeva’s next film, “White Road,” was selected for Cinéfondation’s L’Atelier at the Cannes Film Festival, offering another opportunity to share her distinctive background—and voice—with the world. “An artist is a work of art himself,” she says. “I have my own world, and I want to share it.”
Borisov may be familiar to Russian audiences from such blockbusters as Alexey Sidorov’s World War II epic “T-34” and Fedor Bondarchuk’s sci-fi smash “Invasion,” but he admits that the work he put in to find himself on the big screen has never felt like a job. All his life, acting “was my dream,” he says. This is shaping up to be a breakout year for the rising thesp, who will appear in two competition titles in Cannes: “Petrov’s Flu,” the hotly anticipated feature from fellow countryman Kirill Serebrennikov, and Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen’s Trans-Siberian Railway drama, “Compartment Number 6.” Borisov says he chooses his roles wisely. “I consider my achievements to be those moments when there is the strength to refuse an uninteresting offer,” he says. While that might mean missing out on a shot at more money or success, his focus above all is on developing the craft he loves. “I want to discover new forms and do something new without repeating the old.”
A versatile actor, singer, songwriter and guitarist, Kuznetsov would seem like a jack-of-all-trades accustomed to being in the spotlight. And yet he admits, “I find it easier to be my true self in my films.” Known for his roles in Kirill Sokolov’s gorefest “Why Don’t You Just Die?,” Berlinale player “Acid,” and as the narrator in Kirill Serebrennikov’s Cannes competition title “Leto,” the young thesp says acting is “an absolutely brilliant way to reveal your love to the world, to inspire shy or lost people to start pursuing their true dreams.” Up next is a star turn in Rachel Lang’s French film “Our Men,” alongside Louis Garrel and Camille Cottin. Kuznetsov says he’ll “do everything possible and impossible” to erase the borders between Russian actors and the rest of the world, in order to be an actor who can “claim any lead role in any film in the world, according to his true skill and talent.”
Kolokolnikov rose to international prominence when he was cast as Styr in “Game of Thrones” and has more than 80 feature film credits to his name, including “Tenet” and “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” while making a splash in “The Americans.” With more than two decades under his belt as a performer, he says he’s still drawn to the “incredible thrill” of acting. “Fundamentally, this profession gives you everything you need for happiness: endless interactions with interesting people, learning about our planet, an opportunity to tell all kinds of stories,” he says. “And on top of that, you are being paid for these exciting things.” Born in Moscow but raised in Canada, Kolokolnikov sees himself as a fitting ambassador for this year’s Key Buyers Event. “Since early childhood, my life was between East and West. I witnessed how the world has become unified, in spite of all the existing disagreements,” he says. “Our industry is at the cutting edge of this movement. We all want to get to know each other. And I would like to continue to be part of this connecting tissue.”
Sangadzhiev began his career as an actor, but it was behind the camera that he found his calling. “I suppose I decided to become a director because of the desire to tell my own stories, instead of being just a ‘re-translator’ of someone else’s as an actor,” he says. After cutting his teeth on short films, Sangadzhiev has taken the helm of two hotly anticipated series, “Happy End” and “Ballet,” for the Russian VOD service More.tv. He still works at Moscow’s Gogol Center, the vibrant theater founded by Kirill Serebrennikov, and hopes to bring his training as an actor to bear on the industry. “I don’t want to look too presumptuous, but I think I can try to improve the quality of acting and scriptwriting,” he says. “I work with dramaturgy first of all. I want to be more interesting, more unexpected with every new film.”
Lockshin would be the first to admit that he didn’t harbor lifelong dreams of becoming a filmmaker, a career path he didn’t fully set out on until he was in his twenties. “It took a few years in various production jobs before I had the nerve to decide that I’m a director,” he says. A full decade would pass before Lockshin found himself helming his first feature, “Silver Skates,” a lavish adventure-romance set at the tail end of the 19th century in St. Petersburg, which was the first Russian movie to be acquired as a Netflix original. He’s currently in pre-production on a second period drama, “Woland,” based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel “The Master and Margarita.” For Lockshin, such escapist fare is par for the course. “I sometimes think of film-watching as a form of therapy, and for me personally movies have had a profound impact on my understanding of the world, and also a place to run away to,” he says.
From an early age, Yuryev says he was “highly passionate about imagining and inventing things,” whether it was drawing comics, making up games, or sketching out cartoon storylines. Yet the director confesses he didn’t have his sights set on cinema. “My film-watching was rather chaotic, and I didn’t quite sense the distinction between a director, a cameraman, or a screenwriter,” he says. Much has changed since then, with Yuryev earning acclaim for his feature debut “The Whaler Boy,” which took home the top prize in the Venice Film Festival’s Venice Days program. The director says he’s proud that the film, cast with local residents and shot “on the other side of the world” on the coast of the Bering Strait, “shaped up to be unusual and off the beaten track.” A labor of love nearly a decade in the making, the film is a reflection of what Yuryev hopes to find in future endeavors. “I’d love to always be involved with projects that stimulate and excite me, that bring me joy,” he says, “so that working on them makes me genuinely happy.”
Ivan I. Tverdovskiy
The son of an acclaimed documentary filmmaker, Tverdovskiy knew early on that he would follow in his father’s footsteps. “When I was a kid, the life of my friends’ parents seemed so boring to me,” he says. While they spent their weekends channel-surfing on the couch, the elder Tverdovskiy was on set, or traveling to film festivals, coming home bearings gifts and stories of far-off places. “I felt that our family was somehow special.” Tverdovskiy has made his own name in the industry, directing eight documentaries before shifting to fiction with 2014 Karlovy Vary prize winner “Corrections Class.” His films have screened at festivals including Toronto and San Sebastian, while his latest feature, “Conference,” premiered last year in the Venice Film Festival’s Venice Days strand. Tverdovskiy sees each new film as a fresh start. “I don’t want to look back at what I was thinking about a while ago,” he says. “I want every time [to be] like the first time, as if from scratch.”