Local Films From Abroad

Film.ruBodrov announced the formation of his own production company as well as a number of film projects.
The Cannes Film Festival often seems to be the annual health check for Russian cinema. If there are films in competition, all's going well; if there aren't, it's not, or the word goes out that "they're ignoring us."

Last year saw two Russian films showing in competition; this year there are none, but there's fair representation of the country's industry in supporting events. For the first time there's a Russian pavilion on the Croisette in Cannes this year, celebrating not only the centenary of the first Russian movie, but also the re-emergence of local film over the past decade.

On May 19 there was an out-of-competition screening of film closely tied to Russia -- British director Roland Joffe's "Finding t.A.T.u," which has the alternative title "You and I," about the meeting of an American and a Russian teenager at a concert of the Russian girl band. The group performs much of the soundtrack, and the film is fully financed by Russian production company RAMCO, reportedly to the tune of $20 million.

Critical reaction to Joffe's movie has been somewhat underwhelming, with Britain's The Guardian newspaper writing, "The press have reacted with horror, regarding [the film] as another stage of a career in freefall."

The director, speaking at a news conference, was more philosophical, and remembered his first festival engagement connected with Russia, related to his showing of "The Mission" in 1986, which won the Palme d'Or.

"Andrei Tarkovsky was in competition the same year," he remembered. "He was dying at the time and the press wanted him to win. Afterwards, they behaved as though I had personally robbed him of the award. I had a critic personally attack me in the lobby of my hotel."

Such international encounters are now becoming a more frequent occurrence. After being largely closed during the Soviet period and suffering from financial problems in the 1990s, the Russian film industry's re-emergence on the international scene was witnessed by Sergei Bodrov's announcement at a news conference of a number of new projects.

The director is best known for his Caucasus-themed drama "Prisoner of the Mountains," shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 1996, and for last year's "Mongol," the epic story of the life of Genghis Khan.

Bodrov announced the formation of a new production company, called Bodrov Film Production. "I always wanted to be independent. I also want to produce, to help young directors to make interesting films," Bodrov said in a recent e-mail interview.

Of the five projects in the pipeline, the next will be "Mongol 2," which Bodrov wants to direct and "will be ready to go next year," he said. The projected budget of $35 million will come from Russia, both public and private sources, Kazakhstan and the United States.

"When I finished 'Mongol' four years ago, I decided not to go back to the story. But time went on, and I understood it wouldn't leave me alone," Bodrov said. The sequel will cover the last years of Genghis' life: his last battles and loves and his search for an heir. "It's like Shakespearean passion, in Mongolian."

The other main project on Bodrov's new slate is "Sultan Bey Bars," which is due to be shot in Arabic and is also on a $35 million budget. The story for this historic epic was written by the young Kazakh scriptwriter Ermek Tursunov and is set in Egypt, Syria and Jordan. The movie, whose director has yet to be chosen, will go to preproduction at the end of the year.

"It's interesting to make a film about the Islamic world," Bodrov said, "to understand what unites us, to try and get rid of the errors that say there is such a thing as a 'wrong' religion."

Bodrov's work has always been closely linked to Central Asia, in particular Kazakhstan. He made his first two films at Almaty's Kazakh Film Studios, and went back there to complete another epic, "The Nomad," two years ago. He has also been been developing local talent, such as arthouse filmmaker Guka Omarova, whose debut film "Schizo" and upcoming "The Native Dancer," he co-wrote and produced, as well as employing her as an assistant on "Mongol." "I really feel like I'm at home when I'm [in Kazakhstan]," the director said.

Future projects may bring him closer to Russia, though. "I'm also developing the script of 'Hope Against Hope,' about the Russian poet Osip Mandelshtam, who was killed in Stalin's gulag. This movie has been on my wish list for years."

But with two such big-budget projects on the slate, one in Mongolian, the other in Arabic, it looks like a sign that the Russian film industry will be going more international than at any other stage in its history.