Russian Cinema Fund to Introduce Pitching Sessions for Projects

The move follows a similar initiative by the country's Culture Ministry, although the fund's sessions will not be open to the public.

MOSCOW – Russia's Cinema Fund, which distributes the lion's share of  the country's annual $172 million in public money allocated for filmmakers, will soon introduce pitching sessions.

The move follows a similar initiative by the Ministry of Culture, which is responsible for art house, historic and socially important projects. The changes come as the Kremlin attempts to introduce greater transparency in the distribution of public coin to the film industry.

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But the sessions, unlike those at the Ministry of Culture, won't be open to the public or press, a spokeswoman for the Cinema Fund told The Hollywood Reporter.

"We expect the sessions to go ahead toward the end of this month, although they will not be open sessions," she said without elaborating.

Last month's Culture Ministry sessions, at which 12 features won funding from its $75 million pot, were marred by a scandal around director Alexander Mindadze's Russia-German co-production, Dear Hans, Dear Pyotr.

The film had been backed by German public funds on the understanding that funding would also come from Russian public sources, but it failed to receive a single kopek despite winning the support of the majority of film experts from the ministry's judging commission.

The decision threatens to damage Russia-Germany cooperation in co-productions with a response expected from the German side later this month.

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Industry observers suspect the wartime-set project -- which follows the friendship between a Russian and German engineer and their love for the same woman at a time when the Soviet Union was signed to the notorious Ribbentrop-Molotov non-aggression pact -- fell foul of ideology.

Culture minister Vladimir Medinsky, a historian, is known to be in favor of historic projects that adhere to the Kremlin's officially sanitized view of the war. The murky story of Stalin's pre-war deal with Hitler does not form part of that mythology.

A total of 28 projects that will be competing for a share of the $97 million the Cinema Fund come from the country's top production companies.

In the past, decisions over parceling out cash to the companies  -- all of which are expected to produce commercially viable movies -- was made by committee.

Projects submitted for funding include producer Anatoly Maximov's ambitious epic of early Russia Viking, for which rising young international Russian star Danila Kozlovsky has been tapped to play Prince Vladimir; Alexander Rodnyansky's production Durov's Code, a dramatization of the story of Pavel Durov, the founder of VKontakte, a Russian version of Facebook; and Alexey Uchitel's Matilda, a film about the legendary Russian dancer Matilda Kshesinskaya, which was presented at the Russian pavilion in Cannes earlier this year and for which the producers hope to tap a Hollywood star to play the lead.