Universal Pictures has formally announced its international production plans, confirming the appointment of Christian Grass as president, production for Universal Pictures International (UPI) and signing a local production and distribution deal with Russian director Timur Bekmambetov and his Bazelevs Productions.

In addition, the studio has announced the first Brazilian title in UPI's local production deal with Fernando Mereilles and his 02 Filmes.

The new venture, to which the studio has diverted substantial funding, will expand on its worldwide acquisitions and local production programme outside North America and the UK to back a slate of international stories and local language films. Studio co-chairman David Linde said yesterday that UPI would handle distribution in the local territory and then distribution outside the territory would be decided on a case-by-case basis. In some instances, UPI would handle remaining territories, in others Focus Features International would sell them, in others they would share.

Likewise in the US, the films might be handled by Universal, Focus or Rogue labels or sold to another distributor.

'The thing about these directors is that their sensibility is not purely local and we envisage as broad a distribution platform as possible,' said Linde. 'Part of the reason for doing this is that the production groups at Universal, Focus and Rogue in the US become hyper-aware of what's happening overseas. We want to try and make it a company-wide initiative so it can conceivably be a part and support the entire infrastructure.'

Grass is currently executive vice president of Europe, Middle East and Asia for 20th Century Fox International. Based in London, he will work closely with UPi president David Kosse and FFI chief Alison Thompson.

The Bekmambetov deal will see the director of Night Watch and Day Watch produce and direct both Russian and English-language films for the local and global marketplace. Day Watch is now the highest grossing film of all time in Russia. The third film in the Night Watch trilogy remains at 20th Century Fox.

To handle the local marketing of the films made with and acquired by Bekmambetov, Universal and Bekmambetov have created a theatrical marketing and releasing label called Bekmambetov Pictures which will be based in Moscow and distributed by UPI.

The first film under the partnership will be Universal's action film Wanted which Bekmambetov is directing for the studio and Marc Platt Productions. The film stars James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie. The second release will be Focus Features' animated feature 9 directed by Shane Acker which is produced by Bekmambetov with Tim Burton and Jim Lemley. The third film is an as-yet untitled 3-D animated ballet feature which is currently in production in Russia and a fourth film is in development at Universal.

Meanwhile the Mereilles/02 deal, which focuses on Brazilian and Latin films, has identified Heitor Dhalia's Adrift as the first film to go through the deal. The project is a coming-of-age story is Dhalia's first film since this year's popular Sundance entry Drained. Mereilles is currently in pre-production on Blindness, which he is directing and producing for FFI.

Grass will report to Linde and Michael Joe, executive vice president of Universal Pictures.

Other UPI titles under the new initiative are Justin Chadwick's The Other Boleyn Girl, which Columbia Pictures is handling domestically, Japanese action film Midnight Eagle with Shochiku, and German comedy spoof Tell about Swiss national hero William Tell which it will distribute in German-speaking territories.