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Moscow Co-Production Forum: Russia on the Move

Photo of Sydney Levine By Sydney Levine | Sydneys Buzz June 23, 2010 at 11:05AM

In the short time I had there, Moscow's Business Square activities continue to reverberate in my thoughts, in what I learned there and from what I am picking up in today's news. Film financing looks quite different here in Berlin than it does in the U.S. As I noted in Cannes, co-productions are the engine in the international business, and I urge U.S. producers to take note and get on board in order to take advantage of the opening markets around the world. Dependency on U.S. distribution alone is no longer an option. Independent features are a growing worldwide phenomenon and co-productions are leading the way with their ability to access independent film financing. U.S. distribution sometimes does not even play a part in the success of an international independent co-production. While the exciting ideas are being discussed and strategies are yet to be set and until digital distribution returns some investment, U.S. independent filmmakers should consider the alternatives (outside of the usual traditional roads). The German-Russian examples below are meant to be instructive if not inspirational. Granted the filmmakers are among the best Russia has to offer and my readers might not be so illustrious, still aspiration comes from inspiration and adventure...nothing ventured, nothing gained.
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In the short time I had there, Moscow's Business Square activities continue to reverberate in my thoughts, in what I learned there and from what I am picking up in today's news. Film financing looks quite different here in Berlin than it does in the U.S. As I noted in Cannes, co-productions are the engine in the international business, and I urge U.S. producers to take note and get on board in order to take advantage of the opening markets around the world. Dependency on U.S. distribution alone is no longer an option. Independent features are a growing worldwide phenomenon and co-productions are leading the way with their ability to access independent film financing. U.S. distribution sometimes does not even play a part in the success of an international independent co-production. While the exciting ideas are being discussed and strategies are yet to be set and until digital distribution returns some investment, U.S. independent filmmakers should consider the alternatives (outside of the usual traditional roads). The German-Russian examples below are meant to be instructive if not inspirational. Granted the filmmakers are among the best Russia has to offer and my readers might not be so illustrious, still aspiration comes from inspiration and adventure...nothing ventured, nothing gained.

A look at the Berlinale's Co-Production Market's two Russian films: Leather and Elena. Both of these began at Rotterdam Cinemart where they were chosen to go to the Berlinale Co-Production Market as part of the Rotterdam-Berlinale Express.

LEATHER
CTB Film Company, Russian Federation. Phone +7 495 63 10 24 5. Email msk AT ctb.ru
Writer Alexey Balabanov (Brother)
Director Alexey Balabanov (Brother)
Producers Sergey Selyanov (Mongol, Brother), Valery Fedorovich

Format 35 mm
Running Time 100 min
Genre Drama/Thriller
Target Audience 20+ years
Shooting Start Autumn 2010
Shooting Language Russian, Norwegian, Polish, German, French

Main Cast (confirmed, requested, favoured) Ingeborga Dapkunajte (c), Leonid Bichevin (c)

“We are looking for co-production partners for part of the shooting, studio facilities, cast/crew members and post-production, particularly from Germany, Norway, Poland and other European countries. We are also very interested in finding co-financiers and a sales agent.”

The CTB FILM COMPANY, based in St. Petersburg, is one of Russia’s most prolific and successful producers and distributors of feature films. Founded in 1992, CTB has produced more than fifty feature films in a range of styles: from action, drama, and comedy to animation, auteur and feature debuts. Since 1995, CTB has been a leader in theatrical and video distribution in Russia, with Suschevsky val, 64 films like Tulpan (Un Certain Regard Prize, Cannes 2008), Mongol (Berlinale Co-Production), Office 318 - Market 2005, nominated for a Best Foreign Language Academy Award in 2008), Cargo 200, 129272 Moscow, The Cuckoo, Morphine, Rock Head, Brother, Shultes, Nirvana, War, and the animated feature films About Fedot, The Shooter, Ilya and the Robber, Little Longnose, and Alosha.

CTB works together with many of Russia’s most famous directors including Alexei Balamsk AT ctb.ru, Sergei Bodrov Sr., Pavel Lungin, Bakur Bakuradze, Guka Omarova, Filipp Yankovsky,

This is a Rotterdam-Berlinale Express project.

As capitalism booms in Perestroika-era Russia, Kostya and three friends start a successful leather supply enterprise. But their sudden wealth and new opportunities force Kostya to commit irreversible acts.

Synopsis

Perestroika and Gorbachev’s reforms sweep over the Soviet Union. Capitalism has arrived. Kostya and three friends; Ivan, Yegor and Konstantin, decide to open a joint enterprise supplying leather from the Voronezh region of Russia to Poland. They find out from one of the truck drivers that the leather is not going to Poland, rather to Germany, where it is used to make fashionable, high-quality shoes. Being the only one who can speak English, Kostya is sent to Berlin to establish a direct contract with the shoe manufacturer. The Berlin Wall has just fallen and business is growing.

Back in Russia, news of their incredible profits incites the mafia to kill off the company’s founders in an attempt to take over the business. Kostya’s friend Ivan gets a tip-off that they will also be killed, the next day. Kostya does not go home, does not phone his wife Sasha. He takes all his money and flees to Norway to hide as a guest worker on an oil rig. After two months of hard labour, he is finally given a short break. He goes to relax in the nearby town of Havoysund. There, Kostya meets Inga. Although Kostya is still supposed to work for another two months, he does not return to the oil rig. Instead he marries Inga and gets Norwegian citizenship. He takes her surname and changes his name to Jan. They travel through the fjords and spend time fishing with her father.

While gutting fish one day, Kostya notices that Inga’s father throws away the salmon’s roe – the caviar. Kostya explains that caviar is a delicacy in Russia, and shows him how to salt it. They produce some caviar that Kostya takes to St. Petersburg, where he resumes his old identity and sells caviar to several restaurants through his old acquaintances. He also buys a pistol with a silencer.

Suspecting his former colleague Ivan may have been a part of the mafia conspiracy, Kostya visits him in their old office. Before killing him, he finds out who is now running the company. He empties their safe and heads
for Voronezh, then to Moscow, where he kills everyone.

Meanwhile, Inga is pregnant and tired of waiting for Kostya to return. She travels to St. Petersburg and goes to Kostya’s house. Sasha answers the door. “I’m his wife,” says Inga. “No, I’m his wife,” answers Sasha. The tension escalates and a fight breaks out. When Kostya arrives, he finds Inga weeping over Sasha’s body with bloody scissors in her hands.

Four years pass: A boy asks his mother, in Russian, where Dad is. Inga tells him that his father is out. Kostya sits in a boat in a beautiful Norwegian fjord and fishes.

Director’s Note

The film is based on the real-life experiences of a friend of mine who now lives in Finland. For obvious reasons I will not give his name. The factory in Voronezh still exists and continues to supply leather to Germany. We will film there and show the entire leather production process.

The film spans several years, although we will not indicate specific dates. It begins in the early days of Perestroika, which regular people knew nothing about. Out in the provinces, people simply watched Gorbachev on
TV and carried on living in the USSR. The Berlin Wall was coming down. I want to show how it was when suddenly life changed. There were new links to the West. Many left, but the cleverest organised joint enterprises with European firms.

The central character, Kostya, sees how much money can be made. But having hitherto never known money, this sudden wealth irrevocably alters his mindset and outlook.

The second important theme is love. The Norwegian girl falls in love with the Russian guy and marries him. At first, he sees it as an adventure and a way to get Norwegian citizenship. But later, their love and a happy
family develop.

The film should cover all four seasons in order to authentically portray the passing of time, particularly as the Norwegian winter is so beautiful. There will be a lot of music; many scenes will be shot like music videos, particularly those that show the romantic relations between characters. The killings, however, will be conveyed indirectly. We will not see a single murder, althoughthe viewer will understand everything. The film will be rhythmic and tense, the closest genre to it being a thriller.

Director’s Profile

Alexey Balabanov was born in 1959 in Sverdlovsk. His films include Morphine (2008); Cargo 200 (2007), which won Best Film at the Russian Film Festival Kinotavr and the KNF Award at Rotterdam in 2008; It Doesn’t Hurt (2006), which won Best Actress and Best Actor at Kinotavr; War (2002) which received the Golden Ram at Kinotavr; and Brother (1997), amongst others.

___________________

ELENA
Non-Stop Production, Russian Federation
Writer Oleg Negin
Director Andrey Zvyagintsev (The Return)
Producers Alexander Rodnyansky, Sergey Melkumov


Running Time 90 min
Genre Drama
Format 35 mm

Non-stop Production
Phone +7 916 64 16 71 9
shneyderova AT yandex.ru

Target Audience 25+ years
Shooting Start Spring 2010
Shooting Language Russian

Main Cast tba

“We are looking for co-producers (in terms of studio facilities, crew members, post-production), as well as for a sales agent, distributors and further presales. The director Andrey Zvyagintsev was a 2010 Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award finalist.”

Company Profile

NON-STOP PRODUCTION is co-owned by Alexander Rodnyansky and Sergey Melkumov. Rodnyansky’s films A Chef In Love (1996) and East-West (1999) received Academy Award nominations for Best Foreign Language Film. The 2004 box-office hit A Driver for Vera was awarded the Russian Film of the Year and in 2007, the comedy Heat was the most commercially successful film in Russia and the CIS.

Melkumov has created over 30 Russian films and TV series, including In Motion, The Goddess, Our Own, and the TV series Brezhnev and The Saboteur.

The duo’s first co-production was the war drama The 9th Company, which became Russia’s highest-grossing film, and was awarded the Russian Film of the Year award for 2005. In 2007 NON-STOP released the historic drama 1814, and in 2008 the thriller He Who Puts Out the Light. The studio’s latest project, the sci-fi epic Inhabited Island, became a Russian box-office leader.

When Elena discovers her wealthy, ailing husband has no intention of helping her family in need, she takes matters into her own desperate hands.

Synopsis

Elena and Vladimir, an older married couple, live in an elegant apartment, leading parallel lives: Elena has her own cosy room, Vladimir the master bedroom. She rises early to make breakfast; he appears later at the table in his bathrobe.

Their breakfast conversation consists mostly of banalities. Elena is to pick up her pension, then travel to see her unemployed son Sergei and his family, who depend on her monthly visits. Vladimir disapproves, believing that Sergei’s troubles are his own fault. But for Elena, these visits are her only chance to see her grandchildren.

Elena withdraws her money and journeys to the shabby Soviet suburb where Sergei and his family live. The conversation soon turns to money: Sergei needs a large sum to keep his son from being drafted into the army.
Can Elena borrow the money from Vladimir? That night, Elena slides a written request under Vladimir’s door.

At breakfast, Vladimir makes an evasive promise to think it over. He drives his expensive car to the gym, where he works out for a while, then swims laps in the pool. The lifeguard, engrossed in her magazine, takes a
while to notice Vladimir’s floating body.

In a luxurious hospital room, Elena visits a weak Vladimir. They reminisce about having met under similar circumstances: Vladimir with appendicitis, Elena as his nurse. He wants to see his daughter Katerina. Elena
has an agenda and arranges to meet Katerina at a café first, to persuade the bohemian girl to be a more loving daughter, but Katerina rudely rebuffs her. At the hospital, Katerina launches into an ideological debate with her father about the inherent egotism of having children.

Vladimir is sent home under Elena’s expert care. A few days later, he calls her in for a serious talk: he has decided to write a will and, apart from a generous monthly allowance for Elena, he plans to leave everything to Katerina.

When Elena asks about Sergei, an argument erupts about whose children are more deserving. In the middle of their argument, Elena has a revelation and abruptly agrees to Vladimir’s wishes. She will call his lawyer the
next morning.

But Vladimir does not write his will, and no one ever calls the lawyer. Instead, with the help of a toxic dose of Viagra, Elena gives her own child a shot at the good life.

Director’s Note

This story provides a chance to explore the central idea of the early modern period: survival of the fittest, survival at any cost. With the growth of individual liberties, society requires a corresponding growth in solidarity. Ever-increasing disengagement and individualism mean that people start to behave more and more like tarantulas in a jar.

This will be a rough drama; a pitiless, uncompromising look at human nature. We see two older people who have what appears to be an entirely normal relationship. You could even say that these people love each other;
though it is not a passionate, youthful kind of love. We see their mutual care, gentleness and tact, which along with their dedication and fairness persuade us that they are bound by a lasting love. However, if we choose to call the illusion of a commercial relationship ‘love’, then in a moment of crisis, individuals will always act first and foremost in their own interests.

As far as the form or the time flow is concerned, I see this film as a fast, intense ride that spirals around the central event: Elena’s decision to kill. Up to that point we see a gentle, sweet, feminine woman, full of love and care. At the climax we see a monster, barely recognisable as the character with whom we previously empathised. From that point onward, time ends its mad dash and moves towards the finale like a person realising the mechanistic nature and fundamental meaninglessness of everything around them. This is a drama for today, told in a modern cinematographic language, subjecting the viewer to the eternal questions of life and death.

Director’s Profile

Andrey Zvyagintsev was born in 1964 in Novosibirsk, Siberia. His first feature film, The Return/Vozvrashchenie, won a European Film Award and the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2003. His second film, The Banishment/ Izgnanie, premiered in Competition at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.

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