Day 1 at the 2020 Online American Film Market (AFM) kicked off its morning session with Keynote Speakers, Mark Gill of Solstice Studios, and Elissa Federoff, President of Distribution. Neon. Both conversations offered a plethora of detailed and insightful information on topics ranging from exhibition to distribution and timing of releasing films during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The first-afternoon session, “Spotlight on Russia,” hosted by Roskino CEO, Evgenia Markova, provided an introductory overview of New Russian Cinema and upcoming Russian Television Series. High energy features with strong production values were on full display. Seeking co-production and co-funding partners, one of the first pieces presented was Die Hards from Russia’s Channel 5 TV, closely resembling the Bruce Willis-led, global phenomenon Die Hard franchise. Covering the full gamut of genres with Russian gangsters, love stories, inspirational, historical, and war, a look at the “Spotlight on Russia,” was illuminated.
The dramedy of Chicks seeks to capitalize on both the local and global markets with a swanky and sultry cast dealing with real-life situations with comedic relief. Set for a 2020 November release, Check it out. You’ll be glad you did!
Red Ghost set in WWII theatre of combat puts on full display the unearthly prowess and determination of the Russian soldier on the battlefield – cunning, baffling, powerful! A must-see piece.
Other promising TV and theatrical titles featuring strong Russian-themed action include The Conquest of Siberia and Run.
The Queen, a teenage comedy featuring a social media darling who also doubles as a professional tennis player has all the dressings of when Maria Sharapova meets a randy Clueless’s, Alicia Silverstone.
Wrapping up the impressive Russian lineup were the animated features for the young viewer, The Golden Hive, and the older viewer, Silver Skates. Targeted features with compelling narratives. Highly recommended!
The follow-up session to “Spotlight on Russia” featured a panel of Russian women sharing their experience with key art and merchandising in “The Wow-effect of Russian Movies’ Marketing Localization,” moderated by Screen International’s Geoffrey Macnab.
An excellent primer on developing a consistent audience and being sensitive to regional cinema differences.
A storied filmmaking industry featuring the pioneering and ground-breaking montage of Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, Russian Cinema is seeing widespread popularity throughout Europe and is finding more followers on Youtube. Hostess Markhova showcased the riveting series, Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes, released on YouTube in April 2020. The powerful storyline with exquisite costuming and make-up, make this an Editor’s Choice.
Keep an eye for these pieces and for opportunities to team up with production and distribution companies.
The notion of longevity in Hollywood is getting rarer and rarer as old stars fade and most traditional studios change their ways. But longevity is what springs to mind when the subject is David Kornblum, VP of theatrical sales and distribution, APAC/Russia and global acquisitions, The Walt Disney Company Asia.
Kornblum will accept the CineAsia “Distributor of the Year” Award being given to Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International at the final-night Awards Ceremony on Dec. 8 at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong.
A 27-year Disney veteran based in the company’s Burbank offices, Kornblum oversees 12 direct distribution offices while keeping an eye on a number of sub-distribution offices there handling Disney product. His oversight covers approximately 35 markets (including several quite small) across a vast swath of territories comprising APAC (Asia-Pacific) and Russia. These include China, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, India, Australia/New Zealand and on and on to places like the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States like Kazahkstan, etc.), Singapore, Malaysia, etc.
Just as Kornblum is no stranger to Asia, he’s also no stranger to industry recognition, having been honored in 2013 as recipient of CinemaCon’s Passepartout award.
So what changes over these years has Kornblum seen that have impacted Disney’s business? Remember, this is the legendary Disney, which has barely tampered with its “secret sauce” throughout its long history as a giant of the industry.
One change is the familiar plot turn that began early in the past decade or so with China’s economic rise and its attendant film boom, which continues to play out (in spite of some softening earlier this year in film attendance). But China remains robust and Disney continues as a chart-topper. Says Kornblum, “China’s growth has now made it the global territory with the most screens [as announced in mid-November], having surpassed the U.S. with more than 40,000 screens. To put this growth in perspective, in 2012 China’s overall box-office take was $2 billion and should conclude this year at just shy of $7 billion.”
Overall in his territories, improvements to exhibition infrastructure have been “a boon to business,” he observes, especially in what he describes as “emerging” territories like China and Russia that are relative newbies to vibrant movie cultures and mass theatre attendance. Being the newcomer, Kornblum explains, is often an advantage vs. “mature” markets like Australia or New Zealand, where older moviegoing legacies from the last century like aging venues and even aging populations have an impact.
“In places like China where cinemagoing is relatively new, there are more youthful populations who are attending [a spike that has China now building 27 new auditoriums a day]. These [younger populations] are also in places like the Philippines, where 44 percent of the population is under 20 years of age, or Indonesia where it’s 37 percent and India with an astounding 41 percent of the population under 20. But in a ‘mature’ film-going country like Japan or Taiwan, you have only 19 percent or thereabouts under 20. You can do well in these markets but need the right movie.”
And then there are the vagaries of admissions numbers. Like China’s, Korea’s admissions slowed down a little this year, notes Kornblum, but Hong Kong and Australia have been up, as has Russia “at a whopping nine percent.”
“But with young audiences predominant in some markets and older in others, you have to adjust your film releases to that disparity.”
Beyond the diversity and beyond so many numbers to juggle, Kornblum is emphatic that “whether it’s a more product-driven mature market that requires even more of an exhibition/distribution partnership or an emerging territory—China being the prime example—that is more market-driven, it’s the product that drives everything. Fortunately, Disney is well-placed in these circumstances, as our storytelling is usually universal and targeting broadly.”
Another big stimulus for Disney business in Kornblum’s territories has been the consummation of the digital transition. “Only four years ago, digital was still growing, but now most of the regions have been entirely digitized. That makes releasing matters easier but also more complex,” he explains, “because of all the quick adjustments we can make to programming in the theatres, and with the increased speed and efficiency we have, we can better manicure our releases.”
Kornblum also cites the success of Disney’s branding efforts on behalf of its Walt Disney and Pixar feature animation and live-action Marvel and Lucasfilm releases, whose division names (and not just their respective titles) send signals of quality and resonate with audiences. “This Disney branding effort has now taken root—we call these brands the five pillars of our production philosophy—and they give us a calling card to customers around the world.”
Turning to “report cards,” recent Disney stats for APAC/Russia certainly attest to the power of that calling card in these regions and the quality of the films behind the five brands. Thus far in calendar year 2016, Disney titles that predominated as the highest chart scorers for the APAC/Russia region were Captain America: Civil War, Zootopia, The Jungle Book and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
And as gauged by the various markets it serves, Disney this year has commanded dominant market share as number one (whether as Hollywood release or industry release) in just about every key market, again with titles like Captain America: Civil War, Zootopia, The Jungle Book and Finding Dory going to the top of this class.
The big bumps in film-going across the emerging territories in Kornblum’s APAC/Russia region have been due, he says, to more “cinema-literate” populations, which translates to more people eager to watch and discover films. This surge in his territories has translated to APAC/Russia now accounting for over half of the world’s international box office.
With so many energizing forces and such impressive box-office results, Kornblum happily reports that “it’s a wonderful time to be in the theatrical distribution business.”
But theatres too need to continue to do their share, especially as Kornblum reminds, ticket prices inevitably rise. But, praising the new amenities being offered, he predicts “there will be no negative impact [on attendance] as long as theatres continue to enhance. You can say that theatres need to be like good restaurants. People love to eat at home because it’s easier and cheaper. But craving both food and that communal experience, they also love to step out to restaurants.”
In addition to theatre advancements and amenities “doing a great job” to attract filmgoers and these improvements gaining more of a foothold (3D, premium-large-format screens from IMAX and others, enhanced sound systems like Dolby’s Atmos and Barco’s Auro 11.1, etc.), Kornblum cites “immersive HDR and laser, the next steps in cinema presentation now happening, and we love these.” He’s also a big fan of great seating like that done by AMC and so many others, including the 4DX and D-BOX motion-controlled seating and their immersive scene-appropriate ride thrills or water spritzes.
“The larger screens are increasingly what audiences like to see and they still vote for 3D especially in China and Russia,” which as emerging markets mostly skipped the multiplex revolution of the late 1900s and jumped right into this century’s better theatres. But mature territories like Australia and Korea have lower 3D consumption, he adds.
Getting back to “restaurants,” Kornblum points to in-theatre dining as a popular amenity (pioneered by Village Roadshow and Hoyts in Australia) that has clicked. Also important (and pardon another restaurant reference), he believes it’s vital that theatres offer a varied menu—i.e., different kinds of films to customers. Kornblum points to repertory offerings that Disney can provide from its rich library of beloved cinema classics. “We have significant successes working with our exhibition partners on these repertory programs, introducing both kids and adults to new and old programming and often on theatre ‘off’ nights.”
As Disney’s man in Asia and Russia and traveling the silk and other roads of his territories about 15 to 20 weeks a year, Kornblum says, “I’ve been doing this for twenty odd years and it’s the way I roll!”
The regions are a long haul from where he lives in Southern California and where he grew up. Kornblum was driven to the business by a familiar force: a love of movies. And his innate wanderlust fueled his desire to hit foreign roads. “As a kid, I loved seeing films in theatres on the big screen,” he emphasizes, “because we all know it’s the very best way to see them. But I also learned back then to love all the numbers and statistics relative to this business.” Then came a love of travel and learning about and connecting to cultures outside the U.S. “After I graduated UCI [the University of California at Irvine], I went off to Europe and that did it.”
Prior to Disney, Kornblum worked in corporate finance at Paramount and for the independent Atlantic Entertainment. In earlier Disney roles in international sales and distribution, he oversaw sales planning, strategy and analysis. During his tenure at Disney, the company first crossed the $1 billion annual box-office threshold, with that figure growing dramatically.
As if his vast Asian and Russian expanses were a Lilliputian Liechtenstein, Kornblum for years has also had parallel chores for Disney with acquisition duties, hunting in places like South America for local productions to acquire for his territories that flow through the Buena Vista International pipeline. Like some kind of “marvel” of a superhero, he shrugs off the workload: “This is another business for me.”
Back wearing his distribution cape, Kornblum says that this year’s biggest surprise for him was the success of Zootopia, which “exceeded all expectations because of the great humor and its appeal to both young and old. It was also a fantastic production and also the subtext of segregation and profiling which was very astute and reflected our society today and appealed to adults. The Jungle Book was another surprise. With the latest in visual effects that also provided an immersive experience and fantastic storytelling from Jon Favreau, we were able to reinvigorate a tale that was over 100 years old. We had another movie we loved, Queen of Katwe, that was terrific but underperformed and reminded that in today’s world there still remain challenges in bringing great movies to people.”
Regarding the recent U.S. election with its message that the powers-that-be, including the media, need to get closer to the natives and understand them, Kornblum responded to a question about how he and Disney manage to get a grip on local tastes and cultures in the APAC/Russia markets. “We have a decentralized approach, so we have local managers and they are the experts and run the business for us. They have fingers on the pulse of what is happening and they drive our business in their respective territories. They really do it all.”
Marvel’s Doctor Strange became China’s number-one grosser in mid-November, and at press time expectations were high for the gorgeous animated South Sea tale Moana. Says Kornblum, “We expect great things from all of our brands now, beginning with Moana. We also have for later this year Rogue One, our first-ever Star Wars standalone, which is not associated with the Skywalker saga but is in the Star Wars universe with its story about a man on a mission. For early 2017, there’s the live-action Beauty and the Beast, which stars Dan Stevens [who broke through in “Downton Abbey”] and he’s great. And in early spring comes Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, follow-up to the first Guardians hit.”
With Disney productions perennially strong across so many industry changes, years and territories, the question arises (as does that restaurant analogy) if Kornblum can reveal the studio’s “secret sauce.” He reiterates that it’s the universal storytelling that engages and that reaches movie fans from eight to 80. “It’s what Walt Disney wanted of the company and what the Disney brand signifies. Ours are movies for the whole family and for others, and our five brand pillars exemplify our strategy.”
He ends with some soothing words for the industry: “Anything wrong with the movie business can be resolved by a good movie.” Some might quibble that it’s easier said than done, but Disney, with help from people like Kornblum, constantly does it.
MUMBAI: Indian film studio Eros International has entered into a strategic partnership with Russian distribution and production company Central Partnership (CP) – an affiliate of Gazprom Media Holding – to promote and distribute Indian and Russian content across multiple platforms in both countries.
This association includes exploitation via licensing of intellectual property rights owned by each party in their respective markets and distribution of film projects for both
India and Russia, opening up the market for the two companies to explore new geographies.
As part of the deal, CP will dub films from Eros’ film library in Russian language enabling the company to cater to a much larger audience in Russia and can further utilise the dubbed content on its digital platform, Eros Now, to reach out to a wider audience in Russia.
Jyoti Deshpande, group CEO Eros International, said, “India and Russia have historically always enjoyed a strong and strategic relationship. With our entry into the Russian market, we continue to build our strong global position and are delighted to take the lead in associating with Central Partnership.”She added, “Russia’s domestic market potential is promising and coupled with the rise in digital consumption by local audiences, we see a huge opportunity in exploiting exciting, unique and high-quality content together to reach audiences across the two Diasporas.”
With the growth of satellite pay TV in Russia, there is an increased demand for premium digital and television content. This alliance, Eros said, will pave the way for CP to showcase extensive repository of Bollywood films from the Eros library on pay TV.
CP will also approach free TV channels to explore showcasing of Indian titles, while Eros will distribute CP media assets on Indian television.
This collaboration will also enable the launch of Eros Now, the on-demand OTT digital platform of Eros, in Russia and CIS. CP will showcase Eros Now’s VOD content on digital distribution network RUFORM through Rutube (web video streaming service targeted in Russia) while Eros will facilitate featuring Russian content on Eros Now.
Pavel Stepanov, CEO, Central Partnership, added, “Our strategic partnership with Eros is a big step for both companies in their international expansion, since content from India is now underrepresented in Russia and vice-versa. Our plan is to benefit from both companies’ leading positions in domestic markets to change this layout. Moreover, historically India and Russia have been close, and we expect this collaboration to flourish in the light of the current political climate.”
2016 has been named ‘The Year of Cinema’ in Russia, with extra funds allocated for the local film industry. Russian Sputnik News service recalls five Soviet movies which left a lasting impression worldwide and are still looked up at as examples of stunning cinematography.
The Cranes are Flying, 1957 (Letyat Zhuravli)
This military drama, based on the play “Eternally Alive” (“Vechno zhivye”) by Viktor Rozov was directed at Mosfilm studio by the Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov. The Cranes are Flying has become the first and so far the only domestic film to have been awarded the Palme d’Or — the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
With surprising emotional power, the film reveals a tragic story of two lovers, who were cruelly and permanently separated by war. Picasso himself was shocked, saying he had not seen anything like this in the last hundred years.
In order to film some of the epic scenes, Russian cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky invented and built the first operator’s circular rail. Some of the groundbreaking techniques he pioneered are still used by filmmakers. According to renowned American film critic Todd McCarthy, the influence of Kalatozov and Urusevsky was obvious in the 2015 Oscar-winning movie The Revenant.
Battleship Potemkin, 1925 (Bronenosets Potyomkin)
In 1958, this Soviet silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein and produced by Mosfilm was named the greatest film of all time at the Brussels World’s Fair. Twenty years later, film critics worldwide rated this movie first on their hundred best films list. And in 2009, the Russian drama was cited as one of the top 15 blockbusters to have had the greatest impact on world cinema.
Created in just four months, Battleship Potemkin was ordered by the Soviet government, which needed propaganda material to mark the anniversary of the First Russian Revolution. In 1926 in Germany, the government tried to ban the film. A few years later, mutineers aboard the Dutch ship “De Zeven Provinciën” claimed that their revolt was inspired by this film.
Hundreds of examples can be found in world cinema copying the principles of the film’s famous shooting scene. The scene was directly quoted in Coppola’s Godfather, Gilliam’s Brazil, and De Palma’s The Untouchables. Even The Simpsons have referenced Eisenstein.
Andrei Rublev, 1966
A sincere biographical historical drama directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and co-written with Andrei Konchalovsky is loosely based on the life of Andrei Rublev, the great 15th-century Russian icon painter. A version of the film was shown at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the FIPRESCI prize from The International Federation of Film Critics).
Tarkovsky sought to create a film that shows the artist as “a world-historic figure” and Christianity “as an axiom of Russia’s historical identity” during a turbulent period of Russian history. It became a real eye-opener for Western audiences, which had perceived the Soviet Union as a bastion of atheism and godlessness.
At home, the film was often labeled as “Anti-Russian, antipatriotic and ahistorical.” The Soviet government refused to release the movie until 1971, when a censored version of the film was released. According to a 1978 survey of world film critics, the film had become one of the hundred best movies in the history of cinema. The European Film Academy in 1995 included it in its ten best films of world cinema.
War and Peace, 1966-67
Leo Tolstoy’s immortal novel has been adopted for the silver screen and television several times. The Soviet war drama written and directed by Sergei Bondarchuk won the Golden Globe Award in 1969 for Best Foreign Language Film. It was the first Soviet picture to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and also the longest film ever to receive an Academy Award. Produced by the Mosfilm studios and released in four parts, the film became the most expensive one ever made in the USSR, at a cost of 8,291,712 Soviet rubles, equal to 9,213,013 USD in 1967 or over 66 mln USD in today’s money. In 1967, the film was entered into the 1967 Cannes Film Festival outside of the competition; it was sent there instead of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev.
Bondarchuk’s War and Peace became known for its large-scale battle scenes and use of innovative panoramic filming of battlefields. Several scenes were shot using a hand-held 1KSSHR camera, which weighed about 10 kg and required uncommon physical strength when wielded by film operator Anatoly Petritsky.
Some unusual techniques were adopted by the film makers during the shooting. Some scenes of the Battle of Borodino were taken with the camera fixed on a 120-meter-long cable, which was stretched across the battlefield. To “dive” into the atmosphere of the Natasha Rostova’s first ball, Petritsky stood on roller skates and was moved among the waltzing couples by an assistant. These techniques were included in a documentary about filming the movie and were later used as study material for the training of future operators.
Hedgehog in the Fog, 1975
This Soviet animated film was directed by Yuriy Norshteyn and produced by Soyuzmultfilm animation studio in Moscow. In 1976, the cartoon won its first prizes at the All-Union festival of animated films in Frunze and at the Festival of Films for Children and Young Adults in Tehran. In 2003, the cartoon was crowned the best animated film of all time in Japan and worldwide from among a top-150 list created by 140 critics and animators from different countries. The main hero of this animated film, the Hedgehog, received its own sculpture in Kiev. The film was also referenced in one of the episodes of the animated comedy series Family Guy, “Spies Reminiscent of Us” in 2009.
Famous Japanese film director Hayao Miyazaki, who created such anime masterpieces as My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, named this Soviet story about a little hedgehog his favorite work.
Interesting techniques were used during the cartoon’s creation. The fog effects were created by putting a very thin piece of paper on top of the scene and slowly lifting it up toward the camera frame-by-frame until everything behind it became blurry and white. The film also used a trick of combined filming; for example, the water was real, albeit hatched by the artist.
Russia and China are currently working on a film project under the tentative title Viy 2: Journey to China, the press service of the producer of the film, Gleb Fetisov, said.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan and Jason Flemyng are said to be involved in the project.
“The filming with Schwarzenegger is held in China. There is another Hollywood star taking part in the making of Viy 2 – Jackie Chan,” RIA Novosti quoted the producer’s press service.
The Chinese side sees the Viy 2: Journey to China as a potential blockbuster and hope to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in the local box office.
British actor Jason Flemyng (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch) will play the main role of British explorer Jonathan Green. In the film, Mr. Green receives an order from tsar Peter I to produce maps of the Far East of Russia and finds himself in China.
The premiere of “Viy 2” is scheduled for early 2017.
“Viy” is a horror novella by the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol that he published in 1835. The title of the story is also the name of the demonic creature.
“Viy” the motion picture was made in 1967 in the Soviet Union and became one of the leaders of Soviet film distribution in 1968 (32.6 million viewers). The 1967 motion picture became the USSR’s only horror film.
The action takes place in France during World War II. Russian émigré and Resistance member Olga Kamenskaya is detained by the police for trying to save two Jewish children. Jules, a French policeman and a Nazi collaborator, is willing to make concessions for her, but Olga winds up in a concentration camp where she meets S.S. officer Helmut, a Chekhov admirer who joined the S.S. in hopes of creating a paradise on Earth.
The scenes in the film alternate with interviews with the protagonists in which each talks about his or her childhood, family life, profession and the reasons they chose to support one side or the other.
Who stars in the film?
Olga is played by actress Yulia Vysotskaya, who is also director Konchalovsky’s wife. Helmut is portrayed by Christian Claus, and Jules, by Philippe Duquesne. Other actors include: Jakob Diehl, Peter Kurth, Viktor Sukhorukov and Vera Voronkova.
Which awards has the film received?
The film premiered on Sept. 8, 2016 at the Venice Film Festival and won the Silver Lion for Best Director.
In the last 10 years, Russian films and directors had received five prizes in Venice: Nikita Mikhalkov (Special Lion, 2007), Alexei German, Jr. (Silver Lion for the film The Paper Soldier, 2008), Mikhail Krichman (Golden Osella for Best Cinematography for Silent Souls, 2010), Alexander Sokurov (Golden Lion for Faust, 2011) and Konchalovsky himself (Silver Lion for The Postman’s White Nights, 2014).
*Featured image: Paradise director Andrei Konchalovsky . Photo courtesy of ASAC Images/Biennale Cinema di Venezia.
Andrei Konchalovsky’s film Paradise has been selected as Russia’s entry for Best Foreign Film at the 89th Academy Awards. The Russian Oscar Committee, chaired by actor and director Vladimir Menshov, made the decision on Sept. 19, the Committee’s TASS correspondent reported.
“Well, colleagues, thank you, it has somehow all passed me by – well, alright, I had better agree with you,” said Konchalovsky, expressing his gratitude to the Committee for their decision.
Paradise weaves together the fate of three people during World War II: Russian émigré Olga, an aristocrat and member of the Resistance; Jules, a French policeman and Nazi collaborator; and Helmut, a high-ranking officer in the S.S. Actress Yulia Vysotskaya, Konchalovsky’s wife, stars as Olga, alongside Viktor Sukhorukhov, Philippe Duquesne, Christian Clauss, and Peter Kurth.
The film had its premiere on Sept. 8 at the Venice Film Festival, where it won a Silver Lion.
The 89th Academy Awards are scheduled to take place in Los Angeles on Feb. 26, 2017.