Moscow Co-Production Forum included new project from team behind Innocent Saturday, as well as Sarah Bernhardt English-language project.

The second edition of the Moscow Business Square (MBS) (June 27-29) was attended this year by about 350 professionals from Russia and abroad.

The heart of the three-day event was the Moscow Co-Production Forum which presented 22 feature film and documentary projects which had a connection through the story, shooting location or talent with this year’s regional focus on CIS, Georgia and the Baltic States.

The budgets for the selected projects ranged from €232,140 for the Polish documentary Slavic Film Odyssey 2012 about the work of filmmakers Andrej Kudimienko, Ivan Vyrypayev and Xawery Zulawski from Belarus, Russia and Poland, to €17m for Paris/Mumbai-based producer Pierre Assouline’s biopic of the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt, to be directed by Australian filmmaker Samantha Lang. The English-language project, which would be looking to shoot partly on location in St Petersburg, already has India’s Beta Empire Fund onboard and has been in discussions with Germany’s Studio Berlin.

There was an eclectic range of genres ranging from Igor Kozhevnikov’s adventure fantasy tale Labyrinth which producer Maria Kozhevnikova Ravie described as “a mix of Tarantino and Tarkovsky” through Dutch filmmaker Sander Burger’s drama In The Poet’s House about a Russian exile who evolved into the “Jim Morrison of classical music“ to veteran director Petr Todorovski’s Second World War drama Encounter At The Elbe which is based on the filmmaker’s own experiences as a young Russian soldier in 1945.

In addition, the makers of one of the success stories from the first Moscow Co-Production Forum in 2009, Alexander Mindadze’s Berlinale 2011 competition film Innocent Saturday, were back with a new project this year.

Russia’s Passanger Film, Ukraine’s Studio 4 and Germany’s Bavaria Film are to join forces again for Be Free, the feature debut by VGIK graduate Andrei Annenski who was Mindadze’s AD on Innocent Saturday.

The €3m drama centres on a man searching for freedom and dreaming of escaping from the USSR after spending time on the Soviet Union‘s largest passenger cruiser Maxim Gorky.

The organisers of this second edition of the Moscow Business Square (MBS) wisely dropped plans to pursue the concept of the Moscow International Film Market (MIFM) which had been so disappointing last year.

MBS decided instead to use the space in front of the conference and one-to-one meeting rooms for the so-called Moscow Industry Showcase. The open-plan nature of the areas dedicated to Russian production companies and distributors as well as guest countries – from Latvia and Ukraine to France, Germany and India – was more conducive for networking than had been the case last year.

Another innovation this year were the MBS Screenings which presented selected films from the Moscow International Film Festival programme – such as The Perfect Life and American Translation as well as international titles which have not previously been seen or licensed in Russia including the documentary Klitschko about the Ukrainian boxing brothers.

At the same time, foreign buyers were able to catch such new Russian films as Ilya Kazankov’s thriller Grown-Up Children’s Games, Anton Sivers’ drama The Roadside House, and Stepan Puchinyan’s children’s fantasy film Goldfish In the N City.

Local producers and distributors were also on hand to give a sneak preview of trailers or “work in progress” excerpts from some of the most eagerly awaited titles from the 2011/2012 season. These included Vysotsky, Thank God I’m Alive, a biopic on the legendary Russian balladeer by Pyotr Buslov, CTB Film Company’s remake of the Soviet comedy Kin-Dza-Dza, the third film in the Shadow Boxing franchise, and Maxim Sveshnikov and Vlad Barbe’ 3-D family animation Snow Queen.

Some foreign guests expressed disappointment that this particular presentation had been scheduled to run parallel with the pitching of the Co-Production Forum on the first morning and suggested that such a clash should be avoided in future years.

Foreign participants attending MBS this year included representatives of other co-production markets such as CineMart, Connecting Cottbus, Baltic Event and Sofia Meetings as well as film funders Film I Väst, Friuli Venezia Giulia Audiovisual Fund, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, MDM, Eurimages and Estonian Film Foundation.

The lineup of invited producers included Egoli Tossell Film, Arizona Films, Razor Film, Volya Films, Fiction, Barefoot Films, Vivo Film, while sales agents Rezo Films, Fortissimo Films, Wide Management and Beta Cinema were on the lookout for interesting new product.

Meanwhile, many of those attending expressed some mystification about the relationship (or lack thereof) between MBS and the Moscow International Film Festival (MIFF).

While MIFF president Nikita Mikhalkov said in his foreword to the MIFF Industry Guide that he was “glad that Moscow Business Square functions and develops in the frameworks of Moscow International Film Festival,” foreign guests attending MBS saw little evidence of the festival at the platform’s venue; and MBS delegates didn’t get copies of the MIFF catalogue or festival dailies.