Stalingrad 3D’s producer-director Fyodor Bondarchuk has a US major in his sights for the national and international distribution of the forthcoming  Russian war film, Battalion Of Death, set during the First World War.

Speaking during a presentation of the first footage of Dmitry Meshiev’s drama about the women battalions formed in 1917 to fight on the Eastern front against the Germans, Bondarchuk said that negotiations were underway with “a big company” to handle distribution in a way “very similar to Stalingrad.”

The $30m war drama Stalingrad was released in Russian cinemas by Sony Pictures Releasing International on October 10, 2013  and posted the strongest opening weekend ever for a locally produced film with $14.3m from 1,400 screens. In total, the film took $52m (RUB1.75bn) at the Russian box office to become the top release of 2013 and was also a hit for Sony in China with takings of over $11.5m.

Bondarchuk, whose production company Art Pictures Studio co-produced Battalion of Death with producer Igor Ugolnikov’s Corner Work, said that he was aiming for box office of RUB 2bn for the new film, thereby correcting Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky’s forecast of RUB 1.5 bn.

“Stalingrad was released in the four weeks free of big US releases, so we will try to find a good period [for Battalion of Death],” Bondarchuk explained, pointing out that another of Art Pictures’ past co-productions, Dykhless, had to wait 11 months for the right launch date.

He stressed that the film will not  be converted to 3D - “that would be a wrong move” - while Ugolnikov revealed that the official Russian premiere would be during this year so that it can be part of the events commemorating the centenary of the opening of hostilities for the First World War in 1914.

Reportedly budgeted at RUB 250m, Battalion of Death received RUB 50m production support from the Ministry of Culture, had the Gazprombank as a main partner and sponsorship from Russian Railways.

Historical accuracy

Director Meshiev reacted with some hostility to journalists’ questions about how one should interpret this story: as an act of bravery or senseless folly like the Charge of the Light Brigade?, while the Russian Military Historical Society, a consultant on the film, insisted that there was “no sign of apology for war” in the film.

The Historical Society was established at the end of 2012 by an executive order of President Putin and is regarded as a successor to Imperial Military History Society which had existed from 1907 until the Revolution in 1917.

Last year, the body of military historians voiced its “resolute protest” at the German TV two-part series Operation War, declaring that “a distorted picture of the World War II is being intentionally created in the West through efforts of cinematography and the media.”

Asked by another journalist whether the film intended to prepare Russia for war, given the current climate with the crisis in Ukraine, producer Ugolnikov countered: “we are not preparing for war, but trying to remember history.”

He noted that this chapter in Russia’s history about the all-women combat units formed to inspire the mass of the war-weary soldiers to continue fighting “was left out of our history books and bad-mouthed. This film will fill a black spot in our memory.”

Minister of Culture Medinsky — known in some quarters as Putin’s “culture cop” - said that Meshiev’s film was “an amazing film” that is “completely true to history.”

” In this film, everything is true, from the names of the participants of those events to such details as weapons and costumes,” he added.

Looking back at the film’s genesis, Bondarchuk said that he had originally approached Ugolnikov for a segment of an omnibus film about the First World War with episodes by filmmakers from each of the countries involved in the conflict.  

When this international project did not materialise, Ugolnikov continued with the subject and developed further it into a feature film script.

Art Pictures quartet

At the Russian Cinema Fund’s project pitching session earlier this week, Bondarchuk had presented four projects for which his company Art Pictures Studio is seeking production funding as one of the industry so-called ‘leaders’.

While two of the projects are animation features (Baba Yaga and the 3D feature Savva, written and directed by music producer Maxim Fadeev from his eponymous children’s book from 2007), Bondarchuk also presented Alexander Boykov’s post-apocalyptic drama Tolko Ne Oni, shot at locations in Togliatti and Samara in southern Russia, and the comedy Odna K Odnomy.

Duhless revisited

Meanwhile, Art Pictures and Kinoslovo are collaborating once again on a feature film centring on the character of top manager Max Andreev introduced by Sergei Minaev in his novel Duhless and adapted for the screen by Roman Prygunov.

Shooting is due to begin next month in Bali on the sequel of Russia’s answer to Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, with the ubiquitous Danila Kozlovsky reprising his role as Andreev.

In the new film Downshifter (working title), Andreev has left Moscow behind and is enjoying life on Bali spending the days surfing and motorbiking around the island, until circumstances back home force him to return to the Russian capital. Universal will release the film in spring 2015.