Key Buyers Event Co-Production Forum Showcases Russian Biz Growing Beyond Its Borders

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Seventeen Russian projects and nine international projects from eight countries have been selected to take part in WEMW Goes to Russia, a new international co-production forum organized by Russian state film promotion body Roskino and When East Meets West, the Trieste Film Festival’s co-production platform.

The projects will be presented to potential co-production partners during the Key Buyers Event, which will take place online from June 8-10, with three additional days of screenings and matchmaking.

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The Key Buyers Event was conceived in 2019 as a showcase for new Russian content, primarily geared toward foreign buyers. But the addition of a co-production market—expanded this year through the collaboration with When East Meets West—highlights what Roskino topper Evgenia Markova saw as growing demand to create a platform for Russian producers and their foreign counterparts to come together.

“It was the right choice,” Markova told Variety last month. “We saw it from the [Russian] market. And from the global market, we saw the demand for these co-production projects.”

The event will look to build on the success of a string of recent co-pro partnerships such as Vadim Perelman’s “Persian Lessons,” a co-production between Russia, Germany and Belarus, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2020, and Philipp Yuryev’s debut feature “The Whaler Boy,” a Russia-Poland-Belgium co-production which took the top prize in the Venice Days program at last year’s Venice Film Festival. “Petrov’s Flu” (pictured), the latest feature from Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov (“Leto”), which will world premiere in competition in Cannes next month, was produced with partners from France, Germany and Switzerland.

The Russian government has done its part to foster more cross-border collaborations, launching a cash rebate of up to 40% to lure foreign shoots to the country, while also introducing a fund to support Russian minority co-productions. The moves come at a time when Russian films and TV series are traveling more than ever, thanks in large part to the reach of global streaming services which are offering a platform to showcase the industry’s talents.

“The increasing number of Russian projects getting international distribution will lead to bigger confidence in Russian productions, so simply producing original, high-quality productions and getting them out there is doing a big job for making Russia more attractive for film and TV production,” said Maria de Ritter, head of international development at Sputnik Vostok Production, the outfit behind the Netflix original sci-fi series “Better Than Us.” The company will be pitching the documentary “Art of Isolation” during the WEMW Goes to Russia co-production forum.

“I expect that in five years Russia will become as familiar as Italy or Spain, especially if the government will keep supporting the industry and create more co-production initiatives,” de Ritter continued. “I believe once more international companies start bringing their productions to Russia and they become a trend, new companies aimed at facilitating international productions will sprout up, making it easier for our English-speaking colleagues” to work in the country.

Russia’s venerable animation house SMF Studio, which was founded as Soyuzmultfilm 85 years ago, recently partnered with the Paris-based family entertainment studio Cyber Group Studios to forge a new joint label, and has three projects in the Key Buyers Event co-production forum.

“Each co-production partnership is unique. A lot depends on the project itself, on the production pipeline and distribution strategy,” said SMF Studio’s chair Yuliana Slashcheva. “We now have two IPs, ‘Orange Moo-Cow’ and ‘Squared Zebra,’ which we are co-producing with Cyber Group Studios under the joint label Cyber Soyuz Junior, and we are planning to expand our partnership. And we are continuing to actively look for new co-production partnerships and projects as a key component of our international development strategy.”

Slashcheva said that such collaborations offer “a constant education” for the studio. “With Cyber Group Studios, we have a dedicated world-class story editor working on both of our IPs,” she said, which has given the Russian production team invaluable experience “learning about standards and practices of foreign broadcasters” that will help them moving forward. She added that one of the company’s goals for the next year is to partner with studios experienced in CGI production, “to enhance our technical abilities and build a productive CGI pipeline.”

While Russian producers are increasingly looking outward, WEMW head Alessandro Gropplero said he was pleasantly surprised by the number of foreign producers looking to present projects to them during the Key Buyers Event.

“The fact that we are asking for projects that are in an advanced stage of financing, it means that there are a lot of projects with strong companies, strong directors, that are already fully financed by their own countries” looking for a Russian partner, he said.

For producers from countries in the former Soviet bloc, there are ample reasons for such creative cross-pollination. Snezana van Houwelingen, of Belgrade-based This and That Productions, will be presenting the Goran Stankovic-directed drama “Our Father” during the Key Buyers Event. The film centers on a young drug addict who is brought to a Serbian Orthodox monastery to be healed.

“The Orthodox religion is very powerful in both Serbia and Russia, and the Church holds a very influential role in both societies,” she said, so “the audience in both countries can easily identify with the importance of this topic.”

Recent years have seen a host of successful co-productions between the two countries, such as Alexey German, Jr.’s 2018 Berlinale player “Dovlatov” and the 2019 actioner “The Balkan Line,” and van Houwelingen noted that “many Serbian actors speak fluent Russian and have growing careers in Russia (Milan Maric, Milos Bikovic, Milena Radulovic), which is an additional opportunity for future Serbian-Russian co-productions.” As a member of Eurimages, Russia also offers fertile ground for a final co-production partner to allow van Houwelingen to close financing.

As Russian producers continue to push beyond their borders in search of co-production partners, many foreign producers are likely to follow suit.

Here are the projects selected for this year’s WEMW Goes to Russia co-production forum:

International selection:

I Will Not Starve (Italy, Canada, Poland)
Genre: Drama
Director: Umberto Spinazzola
Producer: Alessandro Borrelli
Pier, a former top chef with a dark past who is now homeless, reconnects with his love for cooking, embarking on a journey through the world of food waste, while rediscovering the relationship with Anna, his teenage daughter.

Cold as Marble (Azerbaijan, France)
Genre: Fiction
Director: Asif Rustamov
Producers: Fariz Ahmadov, Guillaume de Seille
When Akbar is released from prison, his son Khalid’s quest for the truth about his mother’s murder leads to a revelation that turns his life upside down.

The Alienated (Germany)
Genre: Satire, fantasy
Director: Anja Kreis
Producer: Anna Kruglova
The city of N. is experiencing difficult times: Because of the newly built highway, it sinks into fornication and sin. Gynaecologist Angelina Kukushkina performs an illegal abortion—the patient claims to carry the Antichrist in her womb—and takes the embryo home with her. But what is going on in the сity of N.? Is it a triumph of evil or the opposite?

Gambit (Bulgaria)
Genre: Crime drama, thriller
Director: Kondtantin Bojanov
Producer: Katya Trichkova
Nina (24) finds herself in Rotterdam’s Kunsthal the night two masked robbers storm the famed museum, making off with six priceless masterpieces worth over fifty million euros. Once she realizes who is behind the heist, she decides to go after what she believes is rightfully hers.

Our Father (Serbia, Italy, Croatia)
Genre: Drama
Director: Goran Stankovic
Producer: Snezana van Houwelingen
When Dejan (32), a drug addict, arrives for treatment at a monastery commune in a remote part of Serbia, the charismatic and authoritative Father Branko (54) takes him under his wing. Dejan becomes his right hand until the priest goes too far in pursuing his violent methods of healing.

The Great Tram Robbery (Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Romania)
Genre: Black comedy, burlesque
Director: Slobodan Šijan
Producer: Miloš Biković (Archangel Digital), Marko Paljić (Gargantua Films)
He was the first film auteur in the Balkans and the first one in the world to go to jail for it.

The River (Greece, Italy)
Genre: Dark comedy
Director: Haris Raftogiannis
Producers: Eleni Kossyfidou, Luca Cabriolu
What is “progress” for Makis, is a threat for Maria. A car accident brings them closer. The orgasmic taste of Nuggets even closer. But it takes much more for them to be together.

More (Poland)
Genre: Drama
Director: Bart Zmuda
Producer: Przemyslaw Miekinia (“Before My Eyes”)
The story of a woman who tries to prove to the world that she can cope with life, but ultimately can’t.

Empire of the Rabbits (Turkey)
Genre: Drama
Director: Seyfettin Tokmak
Producer: Zeynep Koray
The story of Musa (11), a young healer living with a cruel father, who takes care of the injured rabbits that give him the safety and security he doesn’t feel at home.

Russian selection:

The Riot
Company: All Media Company
Genre: Drama
Director: Evgeny Grigorev
Producer: Olga Erofeeva-Muravyeva
After the father of 12-year-old Ilya is killed, the boy attempts to avenge his murder, but fails. When a biathlon school opens in the village, he takes up the sport in the hopes of enlisting his trainer to help him get his revenge.

Agatha: Queen of Garden
Company: Animation Studio Platoshka
Genre: Adventure, animation, children’s
Producer: Nikita Makarov
The 2D animated series “Agatha: Queen of Garden” features suspense and adventure as it tells the tale of five-year-old Agatha and her cat Marcel. Agatha wields the special power of being able to turn the botanical garden into a big fantasy world for herself at the clap of her hands. She and her wise cat Marcel lend the local residents a hand by helping them deal with various issues while sharing basic knowledge about nature and botany.

Cat Been-In-Use
Company: Animation Studio Platoshka
Genre: Children’s, comedy
Producer: Nikita Makarov
The 2D animated series “Cat Been-In-Use” (or “Second-Hand Cat”) is a show about kindness, friendship and love. It tells us the story of a cat who has repeatedly been betrayed and abandoned by his previous owners. However, he ends up with a family that surrounds him with unconditional love and care. Thanks to his new owners the cat learns to hope for the best and take pleasure in life.

Tundra Blues
Company: Ethnofund Film Company
Genre: Drama
Director: Andrey Redkin
Producer: Vladislav Ketkovich
This is the same story told from two different points of view: from the side of oil drillers, and from the traditional tundra dwellers known as Nenets. For the oilmen it’s just a casual story that can be told in a bar, but for the Nenets it turns into something much more dramatic.

Sasha
Company: Mars Media Entertainment/Vega Film
Genre: Drama
Director: Vladimir Beck
Producer: Katerina Mikhaylova
When you feel you need a fresh start, do something remarkable. Shave your head. That’s what Sasha did when she discovered that she’s no longer able to live with the grandfather who raised her when he’s hospitalized with cancer. Sasha has to move from a small town to her father’s in the Moscow suburbs, where everybody mistakes her for a boy. She begins her wandering through the big city and its lonely, hidden places.

Memory
Company: Mimesis
Genre: Documentary
Director: Vladlena Sandu
Producer: Yanna Buryak
Vladena Sandy, a survivor of the war in Chechnya between 1994 and 1998, studies her traumatic memories in order to transcend and transform them via the art of cinema.

The Flood
Company: New People Film Company
Genre: Drama
Director: Ivan Tverdovskiy
Producer: Nataliya Mokritskaya
A story inspired by the novel from the famous Russian writer Evgeny Zamyatin. The story is centered around Sofia, a middle-aged woman who lives with her abusive husband, Trofim. Unable to have children, they adopt a mute teenage girl, Anna. When Trofim is attracted to Anna, Sofia gets jealous and kills her. The couple tries to hide the horrible crime in the midst of a terrible flood.

Amazing Café
Company: Parovoz Animation Studio
Genre: Adventure, animation, comedy, fantasy
Director: Evgeniy Golovin
Producer: Evgeniy Golovin, Anton Smetankin, Marie Lida
The incredible adventures of Agatha and her mysterious friend Tommy. With their new magical abilities, they fight greedy signor Vittorio, the owner of a fancy hi-tech restaurant whose evil plans are to destroy everyone’s favorite place—a traditional, family-owned restaurant. Agatha is going to do everything she can to protect it. She is the guardian of family values and goes on a new adventure every day, making the lives of everyone in her hometown a little bit more magical.

Sunrise’s Land
Company: Producing Centre Youth Initiatives
Genre: Drama, historical
Director: Philipp Abryutin
Producer: Philipp Abryutin, Oxana Lakhno
Throughout the course of a century, the story follows Vyntynne “Sunrise,” an orphaned reindeer herdsgirl from the Russian Arctic, as she grows into adulthood. Throughout she survives love, loss, captivity and the creation and dissolution of the Soviet era, all while remaining true to her Chukchi oath to become a “true human.”

The Last Days
Company: Proline Film
Genre: Drama
Director: Konstantin Lopushansky
Producer: Andrey Sigle
Andrey is a terminally ill writer who is waiting for his euthanasia date. Now his main wish is to wrap up his affairs and be prepared for the inevitable. But suddenly he meets a new helper and falls in love with the young woman. Will their love grant him peace of mind during his final days?

Wind
Company: Pygmalion Production Co. & New Cinema Distribution
Genre: Drama, road movie
Director: Sergei Chliyants
Producer: Sergei Chliyants
On the southern fringes of the former Russian Empire, a war has just ended. Ivan and his wife Katya live in a house on the outskirts of their village surrounded by windy steppe. In search of a job Ivan leaves his wife and sets off on a journey into the deserted landscape. Upon his return, he finds his wife dead. Realizing his loss, he no longer sees the point in living and finds a way out by setting off to join a new war, where he’ll find answers, meet his death and rejoin his beloved wife.

Amura
Company: R-media
Genre: Action, adventure, crime, drama
Director: Igor Voloshin
Producer: Albert Ryabyshev, Igor Mishin, Maria Pork
An orphan from Khabarovsk, Anya Vdovina (20) falls into sexual slavery in Japan. Though a fragile girl she challenges the yakuza world, goes through difficult trials and eventually becomes a super fighter named Amura. To take revenge on her captors, the heroine returns to Russia, where a new mortal danger awaits her.

Mittelmarsch
Company: Rock Films
Genre: Comedy, drama
Director: Sofia Meledina
Producer: Alexey Uchitel, Kira Saksaganskaya
The 18-year-old Mitya, from St. Petersburg, swears to protect the city’s cultural heritage. He organizes artistic events and, at the same time, becomes the leader of a massive protest. The time comes when Mitya has to decide which is more important for him: people or monuments. This is a story about young heroes and their urge to change the world, when nothing seems impossible.

Loodle Ville
Company: SMF Studio (Soyuzmultfilm)
Genre: Adventure, animation, children’s, comedy, family
Director: Vasily Volkov
Producer: Yulia Osetinskaya, Boris Mashkovtsev
At the top of a high mountain there is a small town, Loodle Ville. It is home to an unusual people, the Looddles. The main characters are little Loodle-Anne and her Loodle-family. With each episode we learn more and more about this unusual place and its inhabitants. Loodle-Anne enthusiastically talks about what is happening, while not forgetting to supplement her stories with illustrations from her wonder-album.

The Formula for Water
Company: SMF Studio (Soyuzmultfilm)
Genre: Action, adventure, animation, children’s, family, fantasy, romance
Director: Oleg Asadulin
Producer: Yulia Osetinskaya, Lika Blank, Sergey Demchev, Boris Mashkovtsev
A post-apocalyptic romance story about a girl who sets out on a journey to save her kidnapped father—a scientist who created a machine that would restore the drinking water reserves on the planet.

The Golden Beehive
Company: SMF Studio (Soyuzmultfilm)
Genre: Adventure, animation, children’s, family
Director: Andrey Zhitkov
Producer: Yulia Osetinskaya, Lika Blank, Sergey Demchev, Boris Mashkovtsev
The lucky charm of Honey Hills Town is stolen, threatening its citizens with misfortune. Young Chirp the Squirrel is accused, and Detective Sophie the Owl takes up the case.

Art of Isolation
Company: Sputnik Vostok Production
Genre: Documentary
Director: Oleg Khristolubskiy, Sofia Popolitova
Producer: Galina Sytsko, Ada Solovich, Inna Orkina-Sekste, Alexander Kessel
Russian people recreate masterpieces of art using household items. The flash mob becomes an important creative outlet as they deal with the pressures of forced isolation and looming death. Members of the Art Isolation group share their experiences of processing separation, mortality and trauma as they have fun, explore and find surprising new ways to connect with their relatives.

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