Veteran German producer Rainer Mockert is returning to feature production with Dominic Minghella’s directorial debut Doria and Austrian Walter Bannert’s drama Kolyma set in the postwar Soviet Union.

Mockert’s Munich-company based Z Classic will co-produce Doria with Island Pictures, the company of the late Anthony Minghella’s brother and set a special purpose vehicle for the production.

The film focuses on how a young housemaid becomes the muse for the composer Giacomo Puccini and the inspiration for the world’s most popular opera tune ‘Nessun Dorma.’

Doria is part love story, part comedy, part emotional thriller,” Minghella says. “Rather than making a ‘great man’ biopic, this film will explore the relationship from the muse’s point of view.”

Mockert told Screen that he has already attracted great interest from A-list actors for the English language project and will draw on the services of veteran Ken Tuohy as executive producer. Minghella is a screenwriter who has worked on ITV’s Doc Martin and BBC One’s 2006 Robin Hood.

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Meanwhile, Kolyma is based on the true story of the teenager Herbert Killian who was sentenced by a Soviet military court in the postwar Russian-occupied zone of Austria in 1947 to three years hard labour in Kolyma, one of Stalin’s worst gulags in Siberia, for slapping a Soviet officer’s son. The Soviet authorities try every trick in the book to prevent Killian  from getting an exit visa and passport to return home and it is only thanks to the help and solidarity of his Russian friends that he is able to survive and return to Austria in 1953.

“The film is not about the Gulag or Stalin,” Mockert said during his pitch in Vologda, “It is about human beings and their will to live. The story is a drama, a love story and an action film.”

Austria’s epo-film is already onboard Z Classics’ English language €6.5m-€7m project which will be directed by Austrian TV and film director Walter Bannert, with Brooks Riley and Werner Schoettke serving as executive producers.

Russian producer Andre Sigle, whose St Petersburg-based company Proline Film has produced such films as Alexander Sokurov’s Alexandra and Faust, expressed interest during a roundtable at VOICES in becoming involved as a partner in the project.

In another pitch Natalya Ivanova of Horosho Production and Matthias Schwerbrock of Filmbase Berlin revealed that their planned Russian-German co-production Two Women, starring Ralph Fiennes and based on Ivan Turgenev’s A Month In The Country, will be handled internationally by REZO Films.