Double Exposure

International expectations are high for two Oscar-nominated Russian productions

In terms of international appeal, few Russian films in 2008 will be bigger than Sergei Bodrov's "Mongol" and Nikita Mikhalkov's "12." Both films have received Oscar nominations for best foreign-language film -- one as the entry from Russia and the other from Kazakhstan. Even without the Oscar nods, both films face encouraging prospects abroad as they were made by internationally recognized directors and have themes that easily transcend borders.

"Mongol" is a $20 million Russian-Kazakhstani-German Genghis Khan biopic initiated by Bodrov and producer Sergei Selyanov. Bodrov, who began his career in Kazakhstan, returned there in the early part of the decade to write Gulshat Omarova's festival favorite "The Recruiter" (also known as "Schizo") and take over from Ivan Passer at the helm of the Kazakhstani epic "Nomad," which a dress rehearsal of sorts for "Mongol," which earned $6.5 million in Russia and the CIS on 375 prints.

" 'Mongol's international rollout starts in February," Selyanov says, "but executive producer Bob Berney and distributors Picturehouse decided that the film is big and capable of sizable returns as a family film and summer movie, so they moved the North American release to the summer. They're really enthusiastic about the film."

"I met Sergei Bodrov during (the making of 1996's ) 'Prisoner of the Mountains' and have been a huge fan of his work since then," Berney says. "Bodrov is really a master filmmaker and I believe that the North American audiences will discover that with 'Mongol.'"

Berney explains that while it is unusual for U.S. companies to pre-buy foreign-language films, he believes "Mongol" could transcend the arthouse audience and have broader appeal.

"The film is very special and can appeal to many different audiences," Berney says. "It's a beautifully made film that has an epic love story along with spectacular action. It's unique and audiences crave that now."

While Mikhalkov's film is not so unique -- its source material is Reginald Rose's oft-filmed play "12 Angry Men" -- the story is adapted to contemporary Russia and is far more than a straight remake. The $4.1 million ensemble piece stars Mikhalkov as the jury foreman and is studded with seasoned character actors. After "12" premiered in Venice last year, Mikhal-kov was presented a Special Lion in recognition of it and his other work. The film went on to gross $6.8 million in Russia and the CIS on 357 prints and, most recently, won best film at the Golden Eagle awards, one of Russia's top film honors. Without disclosing details, Producer Leonid Vereshchagin said that several international distribution deals are currently in negotiations.

"The film is understandable to international audiences because it has emotional impact and universal themes," Vereshchagin says. "It did well at the boxoffice despite being a 'difficult' film."