Russians enjoy Berlin's bounty

Central Partnership, Intercinema close bevy of deals

Russia's latest homegrown blockbuster, fantasy epic "Wolfhound," was never likely to be in competition here, but with a home boxoffice of $20 million and counting since its release in late December, it's a natural for the European Film Market.

Produced by Moscow's fast-growing indie outfit Central Partnership -- which last year struck an astute strategic alliance with Prof-Media, the media wing of Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin's vast Interros industrial holding -- and directed by rising young helmer Nikolai Lebedev, "Wolfhound" (Volkadov) is spearheading the company's sales campaign in Berlin.

The $10 million budget film, shot on location in Slovakia and specially built sets in Moscow, tells the story of the prehistoric village of Galirad, whose leader must learn that love and kindness, not revenge, are the only true purposes in life.

It had already sold theatrically to 30 territories before EFM where this week it sold to Germany and German-speaking territories, Romania, Turkey, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia as the company's spearhead sales push.

Others among the 15 titles Central Partnership is selling in Berlin (not all of which it produced) include horror movie "Dead Daughters," already in development for a U.S. remake with Gold Circle Films; Boris Khlebnikov's "Free Floating," which earned Khlebnikov a best director nod at Russia's Sochi Film Festival last year; and anti-terrorist actioner "Moscow Mission."

"Berlin is our first big sales push of the year and we don't want to focus only on the U.S. majors, but also on large territorial distributors," Dishdishian said. "We're targeting independent distributors from each country that are at our level of development."

The company's promotional party, hosted last Sunday in association with The Hollywood Reporter, billed as a "night of Italian food and Russian hospitality in a German extravaganza," was designed to build those relationships.

"International sales for Russian movies is still in its infancy and is still not included in overall sales projections, although we plan to introduce that for suitable projects next year," Dishdishian said.

He added that, unlike many other Eastern European and former Communist countries that take space at the EFM in national or regional blocs, backed by government or industry bodies, Russian sales efforts are all private initiatives that must rely on their own contacts and marketing expertise to attract potential overseas distributors.

Dishdishian already is looking ahead to Cannes – the second big market of the year for Russian producers and distributors – where sci-fi thriller "Paragraph 78 will lead Central Partnership's charge.

Another Russian distributor in Berlin is Raisa Fomina, one of the country's few female distributors and well known on the international festival circuit as both a fine raconteur and formidable businesswoman.

Berlin is a key festival for Russians, said Fomina, who runs Moscow's Intercinema XXI Century, even though Russian films rarely show up in competition.

"Berlin is very important to Russians," Fomina said. "The European Film Market is very important. A lot of people, including those from the U.S., come to it. There is a chance to sell films even without a competition presence."

Certainly it is better to have them in competition because that really matters, but all the same, Berlin and Cannes are the key markets for Russians," Fomina said.

Fomina's Berlin successes include theatrical sales of Pavel Lungines' thought-provoking film "The Island," to the U.S. (Film Movement) and France (Rezo). The film scooped six of the top eight awards in January at Russia's national Golden Eagle film awards. Fomina is also repping fantasy thriller "The Sword Bearer"; and Georgian anti-war drama "The Russian Triangle."

Fomina also will be talking up director Alexei Balabanov's new project, "Freight 200" -- the title is Russian slang for a soldier's corpse -- and plans private screenings of a 10-minute show reel of "The Banishment," the long-awaited second film from Andrei Zvyagintsev, whose "The Return" won a Golden Lion at Venice in 2003.

Elena Kudrina, deputy general producer at St Petersburg shingle Nikola-film (which produced Aleksandr Sokurov's 2005 "The Sun"), said the lack of a major slate of Russian movies in official selection had not dampened sales.

"Berlin's market is very businesslike and deals happen fast," Kudrina said. "By its end we expect to close deals with Japan, Greece, Austria, Poland and Hungary for (Artem Antonov's war film) 'Polumgla' which has already sold to Germany's Rohfilm."