Russia's Solar selling sun at planned studio


SOCHI, Russia -- A group of Russian investors is plowing $30 million into the creation of a new studio complex in a southern region of the country.

The partners in Solar Kinostudiya (Solar Film Studios) plan to begin offering location and production services this summer from their base in Semigoriya, 12 miles from Russia's key Black Sea port of Novorossisk, before beginning building work on a 70 hectare (175 acres) site they own in 2008.

Sergei Keshishev, a television producer who, as reporter for CNN in the mid 1990s, won a top Russian award for his dispatches from war-torn Chechnya, said the Krasnodar region offers 280 sunny, largely rain-free days a year between April and October, making it an ideal location for film production.

By contrast, Moscow and St. Petersburg -- where many Russian films are shot -- have a much shorter good-weather shooting season (May-September) forcing filmmakers to use locations in the Ukraine's Crimea, where customs tariffs and currency exchange rates tend to inflate costs.

"Most Russian filmmakers look to shoot on the Black Sea coast in the Crimea at Yalta or Odessa during the summer, but they have to deal with border controls (and) customs duties that can run to thousands of dollars and hard currency transactions.

"Crimea is beautiful but homogenous -- the scenery is much the same everywhere, the beaches all flat and architecture similar and, therefore, many directors want to shoot in Russia but do not have the opportunity. Our studios will give them that chance," Keshishev said following a presentation of the project at the Russian national film festival Kinotavr in Sochi.

The project -- which includes such partners as financier Roman Smolokovsky, television advertising production veteran Alexei Lisnianki and Alexander Ruben, head of technical equipment company Kinoproekt -- also encompasses technical training to address Russia's critical shortage of skilled crews.

A new technical education diploma in a range of film industry skills will open to its first class of about 30 students at the Novorossisk State Marine Academy in August. The partners in Solar hope to expand the number of places available in the future.

Work on the first stage of 12,000 square meters of sound stages, facilities and a hotel at the studio site in Semigoriya will begin next year.

The partners will begin by pitching their services to Russian producers but with the numbers of U.S. and European co-productions in Russia slowly growing hope to widen their market later on.

"Hollywood producers have used Eastern European studios and locations for a long time. We do not think that our studios will be any worse," Smolokovsky said.

Russia's current poor image internationally -- with widespread reports of democratic backsliding by the Putin regime and talk of a new Cold War cuts no ice with Solar's partners.

"We think that Western attitudes to Russia will not worry those who want to invest here. Russia is becoming simpler and easier and it is better to look to the future. We would not be investing our own money in this project if we were not confident in that future," Keshishev added.