Russian Comedy Holds Local Premiere in Town Without a Movie Theater

Russian town's cultural center turned into movie theater for Red Carpet premiere event.

A star-studded red-carpet premiere for "Messenger From Heaven" was held in Aleksin, a small town 120 miles south of Moscow.

A Russian movie had its star-studded red-carpet premiere in a small town 120 miles south of Moscow that does not even have a cinema.

Producers of comedy Messenger From Heaven -- which stars some of the country's top talent -- decided to break from tradition and move the opening-night party far from the bright lights and swanky multiplexes of the capital. Instead, Anatoly Maksimov, head of Kino Direktsya and responsible for a string of hits in Europe's fourth biggest box office territory, opted for Aleksin, a small town near the city of Tula, where much of the movie was shot on location.

Aleksin, which doubles as a small town in Siberia in the film -- which is about characters who leave Moscow, and in the process, find themselves and what they truly value in life -- lost its cinema after the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago, like thousands of other towns across Russia.

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Maksimov, who in 2004 produced Night Watch, the film that launched director Timur Bekmambetov's career and was the first post-Soviet film to make more than $1 million at the box office, wanted to give something back to the people of Aleksin. On Sunday, Nov. 24, he and the entire cast and crew left Moscow for the three-hour drive to Aleksin for the world premiere held at the town's Soviet-era social center, the Palace of Culture.

Those who had not been to the cinema in more than two decades had the chance to see stars that included Gosha Kutsenko and Ekaterina Fedulova. They also got the opportunity to experience the magic of filmmaking through motion-capture equipment that created the illusion that they were on the film's set.

The film, a 21st-century reworking of the classic 19th-century play The Government Inspector by Nikolai Gogol, goes on general release across Russia on Thursday through Walt Disney Studios/Sony Pictures Releasing.

Maksimov, who is currently prepping a $30 million epic about the early Viking founders of Russia, told The Hollywood Reporter: "The local audience loved the film and the crew were really happy. They were the people's heroes, just like in old Soviet times. That is a feeling that has been quite forgotten in modern Moscow."

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He added that Aleksin was chosen not just because it was a location for the movie, but also many films are shot in remote areas that lack cinemas.

"The people do not have the chance to see the film at the theater. All local theaters are history; they did not survive perestroika," Maksimov said, using the Russian word for "rebuilding," a reference to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's mid-1980s policy to reform the communist regime that inadvertently led to its collapse. "Now we were back with entertainment, just for one night this time. Most people in Russia live in small cities like this. And most of them still have no film theaters."