An urban thriller set in contemporary Havana, Fuga Mortis is the story of an adolescent hustler who tries to save his sister from the streets, and discovers his best option is to kill one of his grandfather's ageing comrades. The project's director and writer, Kirill Mikhanovsky, received the Screen International best pitch award at the Baltic Event Co-Production Market in Tallinn, Estonia, in December. He was subsequently accepted to the Sundance Screenwriters Lab.

Mikhanovsky describes the project as an original idea set in a unique location during a once-in-a-lifetime political and social moment. He says Fuga Mortis has piqued the curiosity of potential European partners, but admits it is challenging.

'A Russian-born US citizen making a thriller in Cuba, in Spanish - it doesn't exactly fit any formula,' he says. 'In Europe, where everything is about government funding and about being 'European', most people simply don't want to mess with it.'

Fuga Mortis is being produced by Oleg Kokhan of the Ukraine's Sota Cinema Group and Yevgeni Gindilis of Russia's Tvindie Film Production. They have 50% of the $1.7m budget in place and are now talking to Arte and other producers from Western Europe.

Moscow-born Mikhanovsky emigrated to the US as a teenager and studied for a degree in linguistics. As an amateur film-maker, he landed a job at a small production house in Los Angeles before entering New York University's graduate programme for film.

Mikhanovsky's first feature, Fish Dreams, won the Prix Regards Jeune when it screened at Cannes Critics' Week in 2006. He shot the film, a love story set in a Brazilian fishing village, with a cast made up largely of non-professionals.

'Finding the main couple (for Fish Dreams) was my main concern, ' he says. 'The rest was easy. The place was crawling with highly watchable characters able to deliver what they know best,' Mikhanovsky recalls. 'Whether they're cutting stingray, putting the boat on water, discussing the issue of illegal diving, dancing or selling a TV, we are witnessing virtuosos at work, which is always fascinating, mesmerising.'

Mikhanovsky plans to draw on his experience in Brazil when shooting Fuga Mortis on location in Havana, which he acknowledges will be 'tricky', given the nature of the story. The producers are looking for a Latin American partner to manoeuvre the project through the Cuban bureaucracy and secure a stable working environment in Havana. An eight-week shoot is slated to begin in August, with a print ready in spring 2010.