CP Classic in it for the long run

Film division positions slate for lengthy exhibition, DVD, TV

Russia's largest independent distributor and production company, Central Partnership, has launched CP Classic, aiming to mimic the success of Hollywood studio divisions like Fox Searchlight.

Headed by former Central Partnership PR and promotion manager Natalya Khlyustova, CP Classic will concentrate on limited theatrical distribution of Russian and foreign films in theaters, then on DVD through its own label and distribution in other formats. It is part of CP's efforts to become Russia's first major.

CP Classic's inaugural release was "To Each His Cinema" (Chacun son cinéma), which debuted at 16th on the Russia and CIS boxoffice chart and grossed $42,177 from eight screens earlier this year. The film — a compendium of shorts made by 33 directors from 25 countries — is the first release from the startup division's slate of 17 films for 2008-09, which includes Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's "The Lark Farm," Michael Haneke's 2007 remake of his own 1997 film "Funny Games," Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," Lars von Trier's "Antichrist" and Jim Jarmusch's "Limits of Control." The division also will give some older items of auteur cinema, such as Wong Kar Wai's 1994 drama "Ashes of Time," their first theatrical release in Russia.

Said Khlyustova: "The main goal for us is to provide for long theatrical runs for our films. Films from the CP Classic slate will be released at least once a month and need to be shown not only in Moscow and St. Petersburg but in all Russian cities with populations of 1 million or more, as well as other regions of Russia and CIS countries."

Khlyustova added that the Russian and CIS exhibition market has developed enough to where there is a considerable number of cinemas that could consistently program CP Classic's product. She said that CP Classic's staff includes a dedicated booker working with such cinemas.

CP Classic also plans to serve as a platform for releases by Russian auteurs, with upcoming releases including Alexander Proshkin's drama "Live and Remember," based on the eponymous novella by Valentin Rasputin; Katya Shagalova's drama "Once Upon a Time in the Provinces"; Boris Khlebnikov's as-yet-untitled comedy-drama; and other Russian films.

The Russian slate also includes such special projects as "SemYa," an omnibus of children's films, the boxoffice revenue of which will be applied to the establishment of arts centers in orphanages.

CP Classic has existed as a concept under the CP banner since 2000 but has not been set up as an active operation until now.

Because CP Classic concentrates on limited-release titles, most of its films will be released on more than 30 prints, with some exceptions for directors whose work has mainstream popularity in Russia. For example, Emir Kusturica's "Promise Me This" went out on 50 prints. Kusturica is a household name in Russia, and CP executives used this example to stress that the division is not exclusively an art house label but is geared toward cinema connoisseurs.

"We are avoiding the term 'art house,' " said Mark Lolo, general director of Central Partnership Sales. "In my view, this term has discredited itself in Russia, just as the blanket term 'blockbuster' has. I want to stress that CP Classic will not distribute so-called art house cinema, but high-quality cinema."

"We hope that the CP Classic brand will become known throughout the country," said Ruben Dishdishyan, CEO of Central Partnership. "We aim for it to release hip and non-trivial films to cinemas, and then to DVD and TV."

While Dishdishyan did not disclose the budget of the new division, he did say that CP management expects financial returns from the division's operations "within the next two years."