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Abramovich Millions for Arthouse Flicks

In this summer’s Russian blockbuster, a rising local boy takes on the combined might of Hollywood and the hidebound state film commissars. by Ky Krauthamer 11 July 2019

The advent of a deep-pocketed private film fund could prove a godsend for Russian independent filmmakers, who often struggle to get their films into domestic cinemas.


Kinoprime, a fund backed by billionaire Roman Abramovich, is taking applications from filmmakers, and has pledged to invest $100 million in its first three years.


The fund is open to applications from across the cinematic scale, from rising young talent to established commercial directors, and aims to support films that slip through the cracks of the state funding agencies, Kinoprime’s chief executive Anton Malyshev told Variety at the Cannes film festival.


Still, applicants will have a better chance if they have already secured state funding. Such projects would be “good for investment, because it’s low risk,” said Malyshev, the former managing director of the Russian State Film Fund.


Big Fish Hunt for State Money


The movie business is booming in Russia. The 200 million cinema admissions last year marked a slight decline from the peak year of 2017 but nevertheless generated a record $980 million at the box office, according to Statista.


The patriotic, state-subsidized war movie T-34 took in more than 30 million dollars at the box office in only a month after its premiere earlier this year. Image by Mila Rozanova/Youtube.


Hollywood movies account for most ticket sales, but domestic productions are also thriving, thanks in part to state backing. Typically, a successful Russian film is produced by one of the fortunate studios designated by the State Film Fund as a leader in the field, according to a 2018 report from the Council of Europe’s European Audiovisual Observatory.


“These leading studios (between seven to 10 per year) release more films, enjoy higher box-office returns, and are awarded the bulk of state support,” the report says.


The State Film Fund provides subsidies and loans in support of commercial films for mass audiences. First films and experimental or auteur features are eligible for support through a smaller fund run by the Culture Ministry. Almost half of Russian films released from 2013 to 2017 received state support, but the state funders are focusing ever more on potential blockbusters. “State financial support for film production is concentrated on an increasingly small number of big-budget films produced by leading studios,” the report states.


In this skewed market, “The fund [Abramovich is] starting would, in essence, be a production partner to the Russian state,” Forbes contributor Guy Martin wrote last fall, when the oligarch announced he was moving into the film financing business. Kinoprime will provide from 10 to 50 percent of the budget of films it backs, Martin wrote, with a cap of $2 million for each project, according to Variety.


Roman’s Boutique


Not that Kinoprime can’t afford to take the occasional flyer on an arthouse film. With an estimated net worth of $13 billion, the Russian-Israeli Abramovich’s assets include Chelsea Football Club, steelmaker Evraz, and Norilsk Nickel. Like some other oligarchs in the 1990s, he dabbled in politics, serving in the State Duma and then as governor of the Chukotka region from 2000 to 2008, splashing out $2.5 billion of his own money on local projects in the impoverished far-northern region, according to Forbes.


Kinoprime expects to invest in 10-15 projects in its first year.


“A hundred million dollars for three years is not so much. It’s like a boutique,” Malyshev said.


The appetite for home-grown movies is growing, the CEO of the major cinema chain Karo said earlier this year.


“Currently we have something like 20 percent of all movies seen in Russia that are made in Russia. And the quality of movies is growing,” Olga Zinyakova told bne Intellinews. “I can say that Russians like the local movies. It's a question of quality, which is always true. The problem is the amount of movies we produce are not enough.”

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL.
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