St Petersburg International Media Forum closes inaugural edition with world premiere of Serena.

Francois Ozon’s latest feature The New Girlfriend was voted as the Best of the Fest by the audience at the inaugural edition of the St Petersburg International Media Forum (SPIMF) which closed on Friday evening with the world premiere of Susanne Bier’s Serena, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.

However, neither director Bier, nor any of the talent were in St Petersburg for the film, which Volgafilm will be releasing in Russian cinemas on October 30.

Although there was no formal competition for SPIMF’s film programme, a jury of local film critics was formed to give awards for what they regarded as the best film and TV series showing in the 2014 line-up.

Australian film-maker Anna Broinowsky’s documentary Aim High In Creation, which screened in the KOR-KOR sidebar about North Korean cinema, was named best film, while the Press Award for best TV series went to Showtime’s Homeland, with an honorary diploma for ¨broadening horizons and pushing borders of Russian television¨ recognising the pilot of CTC’s series Londongrad about the Russian community in the English capital, which is set to air in 2015.

A third award - the Governor’s Prize - to be awarded ¨to the feature film or series that popularies humanistic values and emphasise the role of culture in modern society with the most expressive means¨ mysteriously fell by the wayside during the closing ceremony produced by the Marinsky Theatre’s director Vasily Barkhatov.

Screenings and market activities

The programme of 50 films in 10 programmes - regarded by some foreign guests as a strange mix of old and new - was primarily aimed at St Petersburg’s cineastes and local film critics who wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity of ever seeing many of these films in Russia.

International guests were invited to DOORS market screenings of recent Russian productions such as The Fool, The Son and Two Women.

The attempt at establishing a market gave off mixed signals: some stands appeared to be rarely manned and others packed up shop before time, while the startups saw little traffic venturing into their alley.

Whether SPIMF will be able to establish itself in the future media calendar remains to be seen given the already packed schedule in the autumn with existing film festivals and TV markets.

As many Russian producers remarked, the North Seas Film Forum co-production gathering and discussion events at the Media Forum’s business programme were all the more important in the current political situation where there was the danger of Russian cinema becoming isolated from the rest of the international film industry.

Meanwhile, the second edition of the Northern Seas Film Forum co-production gathering was secreted out of the way on the second floor, but this didn’t stop intensive schedules of one-to-one meetings being undertaken by Russian co-producers with such West European production companies as Germany’s Rohfilm and Pallas Film, The Netherlands’ Volya Films, Ireland’s Fastnet Films and Tailored Films, as well as sales agent Rezo Films and film funders Polish Film Instiute, nordmedia and Eurimages.

SPIMF’s general producer Katya Mtsitouridze invited Tribeca Film Festival’s artistic director Frédéric Boyer on stage during Friday’s closing ceremony, where she expressed interest and it was announced that SPIMF and Tribeca started negotiations on a possible collaboration for next year, both within the Market and Alexander Sokurov’s Cinema Laboratory (C.L.A.S.)

Anti-piracy and quotas

Legislation to combat piracy and the question of introducing quotas on the number of non-Russian theatrical releases were among the items discussed in SPIMF’s well attended three-day business programme.

Speaking exclusively to ScreenDaily at the end of his stay in St Petersburg, Chris Marcich, MPA’s President and Managing Director/EMEA, observed that ¨the anti-piracy legislation, which Russian producers like Sergey Selyanov and Fyodor Bondarchuk championed, has gone in the right direction. The effects will begin to be seen next year and there are some corrections to the law currently under consideration that should make it work better.¨

¨Moreover, the new management at [the social network] Vkontakte are at last going to do what they said they would do for a long time and find a way to discourage illegality and put legal services into place.¨

Meanwhile, in the debate on the pros and cons of having a quota system, Paul Heth, CEO of the Karo Film Group cinema chain, argued: ¨our customers only want to see good films, they are not so concerned who makes them. For the young people who come to our cinemas, it’s all about whether a particular film holds up - it’s a very simple equation. I don’t think by quotas that you can tell our customers what they can see, what clothes they can buy, or what car they can be. Quotas would be catastrophic from a business standpoint - it would force us to close cinemas.¨

Private fund backs two more projects

As reported last month, the private St Petersburg-based project development fund Point of View (P.O.V.) has awarded grants of $19,387 (€15,000) to another two projects with co-production potential.

At an official awards ceremony during SPIMF, P.O.V. founder, producer Sergey Selyanov of CTB Film Company, and fund manager Natalia Drozd presented the grants to producer Anastasia Pavlovich of Aquarium Films for Nobody Nowhere, the fiction feature debut of Russian documentary director Andrey Redkin, planned as a co-production with France’s MPM Films; and Thirtieth Love by Angelina Nikonova, her third collaboration with actress Olga Dykhovichnaya, to be produced by Vita Aktiva’s Julia Mishkinene, with The Netherlands’ Marianne Slot as co-producer.

Two of the previously supported P.O.V. projects -  Russian Anton Bilzho’s feature debut The Dream Fish, to be produced by Tallinn-based Marx Film and Russia’s Look Film, and debutant Anna Sarukhanova’s Inner City, to be produced by Vita Aktiva in Tbilisi in 2015 - will be pitched at the forthcoming connecting cottbus East-West co-production market (November 6-8).

Amadeus picks up two Oscar candidates, Uzbek title

UK sales agent Amadeus Entertainment has picked up international distribution for Ukraine and Slovakia’s candidates for the Oscars’ Foreign Language Feature Film category.

Speaking exclusively to Screen Daily at this week’s Northern Seas Film Forum in St Petersburg, Amadeus’ CEO Ivo Fiorenza revealed that he is handling sales on Oles Sanin’s The Guide. Set in the Soviet Ukraine in the early 1930s, the drama follows a 10-year-old boy on the run from the secret police, who becomes a guide for a blind itinerant bard, one of the so-called Kobzar.

The film had its world premiere during the Odessa International Film Festival in July and is now screening in the International Competition at the Warsaw Film Festival (October 10-19) this week. Germany’s FilmFestival Cottbus will also be presenting the film in a special section dedicated to Ukrainian cinema next month.

Moreover, Amadeus has secured international rights to Miloslav Luther’s A Step Into The Dark (Krok do tmy), a romantic period drama set during and after the Second World War, which has been selected as Slovakia’s candidate for the Oscar category..

Produced by Bratislava-based Trigon Productions, A Step Into The Dark was released in Slovakia in June and had its international premiere at the Montreal World Film Festival at the end of August. 

Fiorenza added that he is now handling international sales on Uzbek director Rashid Malikov’s Uncle which won the Grand Prix and Best Actor Award at the ¨In The Family Circle¨ - International Theatre and Film Festival in Irkutsk last August.

He had served in the festival’s international competition jury along with the veteran Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi, among others.

April FilmLab turns to crowdfunding

Producer-director Sergey Kachkin’s April FilmLab has turned to crowdfunding to raise finance for his latest documentary, PERM-36. A Territory of Freedom, about Russia’s only museum dedicated to the victims of political repression which is housed in the barracks of a former gulag camp, 60 kilometres from Kachkin’s home town of Perm.

Kachkin told ScreenDaily in St Petersburg that he has spent the last three years gathering material on the camp and interviewing former inmates such as Viktor Pestov of Memorial, the internationally renowned literary scholar and linguist Mikhail Meilakh, and the human rights activist and politician Sergey Kovalev

In addition, the film will touch on an ongoing conflict between the Governor’s regional administration and the museum’s founders, which was not yet resolved despite support from none other than President Putin himself to save the museum from closure.

The project received development support from Germany’s Robert Bosch Foundation, and Kachkin now aims to raise $12,168 (RUB 490,000) via

French and Lithuanian partners board Kharms

France’s CDP and Lithuania’s Tremora have come onboard Ivan Bolotnikov’s feature Kharms about the poet, writer and playwright Daniil Kharms as production partners.

The project - which is due to go into production next year - was first pitched at the Moscow Business Square in 2010, at the Sofia Meetings in 2011, and again at the Northern Seas Film Forum as part of SPIMF this week.

The $1.82m (€ 1.44m) production by St Petersburg-based Proline Film also received development support from Rotterdam’s Hubert Bals Fund and production backing from the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Culture.

This week, St Petersburg’s city authorities announced that a street is to be renamed in honour of Kharms’  (aka Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachyov) memory.

Bazelevs enters Israeli market

As SPIMF was winding down in St Petersburg, the Ministry of Culture’s supported RUSSIAN CINEMA platform is preparing to promote more than 30 new Russian films and TV series at the MIPCOM market in Cannes (October 13-16).

Timur Bekmambetov’s Bazelevs Distribution has revealed that it is entering the Israeli theatrical distribution market in cooperation with the Yes Planet cinema chain.

The first title in this collaborative venture will be the sequel of last year’s box-office hit Kiss Them All (Gorko!), Kiss Them All 2 (Gorko! 2), which will have a day-and-date release in Russia and Israel on October 23.

The release - in Russian with Hebrew subtitles - will be preceded by the TV premiere of the original Kiss Them All on the Russian TVchannel 9 Kanal Israel.

The anti-corruption comedy Fool’s Day is expected to be the next day-and-date release on November 13 and will be followed by other Bazelevs titles such as Yolki 1914  (December 25) and Shaggy Yolki (January 2015)

Wizart Animation will be in Cannes selling its animation feature films Wolves and Sheep and The Snow Queen 2, the latter set to have its theatrical premiere in the UK as The Snow Queen: Magic of the Ice Mirror  by Signature Entertainment on December 11 ahead of the Russian release by Bazelevs on January 1, 2015.

Wizart’s Yuri Moskvin revealed in the Cinema Showcase in St Petersburg that preparations are already underway for a sequel of Wolves And Sheep for release in 2017 as part of a strategy to create a new international franchise.

Meanwhile, Antipode Sales & Distribution will be continuing sales from the RUSSIAN CINEMA stand in Cannes on such titles as Andrey Konchalovsky’s Venice winner The Postman’s White Nights and Alexey Fedorchenko’s new feature Angels of Revolution which has its world premiere at this year’s Rome Film Festival.