Russian ministry promoting films abroad

New government-backed body providing financial support

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CANNES -- The Russian Ministry of Culture has announced a government-backed body for the promotion of Russian films abroad.

Similar to France's Unifrance, the group will grow out of the existing cinematic cultural body Sovexportfilm and will unite government and private financial support to promote Russian films and filmmakers internationally.

The move is the latest by the Kremlin to try and solidify Russia's reputation as one of Europe's leading cinema territories. The Russian market has exploded in the past few years, with boxoffice soaring 47% to more than $830 million in 2008. The boom is being led by local productions, such as Timur Bekmambetov's blockbuster "Irony of Fate" and Fyodor Bondarchuk's $40 million sci-fi epic "Inhabited Island."

The Russian government also has thrown its weight behind local cinema, recently green-lighting a $64 million package of funding for 10 so-called patriotic projects over the next few years.

The Russian market, however, has been hard hit by the double whammy of the global economic downturn and the sharp drop in the price of oil, the main economic driver of the Russian economy. Several Russian distributors have been stretched thin and there have been reports of local buyers reneging on acquisition deals.

But Russia is putting a brave face for this year's Cannes. While most national support bodies have trimmed their budgets, Russia has gone all out, with a new market pavilion twice the size of last year's and a full schedule of round-table discussions on the Russian market.