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Friday, April 21, 2006

Mickey Mouse Comes to Russia's Aid

The Moscow Times reports that last year the gross Russian box office take was a puny $350 million. That means the average Russian spends $2.40 going to the movies each year. The Times reports that this is expected to soar to a breathtaking $415 million this year, or $2.86 per person.

So much for Russia's economic revitalization! Russians still can't even afford to go see a movie, and in fact very few worthy movie theaters have even been built in Russia outside of Moscow.

According to the Times, Disney is looking to enter the picture and teach Russians how to draw cartoons. The Times reports:

Last month, Disney signaled that it had begun scoping out Russia for future filmmaking.

The Hollywood studio plans to "seek out local stories and local talent … that combine the Walt Disney Studios' storytelling abilities with Russia's rich history and culture," said Carol Nicolau, a spokeswoman for Disney's marketing and distribution arm, Buena Vista International.

Interestingly, Buena Vista's distributor in Russia is Cascade, the same firm that works for Solnechny Dom.

Nicolau added: "These stories would be developed for both the Disney and Touchstone banners and could take the form of either live action or animation."

To this end, Disney has hired Marina Zhigalova-Ozkan to oversee its strategic planning in Russia. Zhigalova-Ozkan, formerly first deputy director at Prof-Media, started as managing director for Disney on April 1.

Sergei Lavrov, a box-office analyst with Russian Film Business Today, an industry magazine, said that cartoons took more time to pay off for investors but in the long run delivered solid revenues.

"You get a new audience every six or seven years," Lehtosaari explained. "Disney is still releasing Pinocchio and Cinderella." Plus, he said, "animated characters don't want a raise and are never involved in sex scandals."

A few Russian studios are working on 10 or so animated, feature-length films, Dobrunov said.
Alexander Semyonov, editor of Russian Film Business Today, was skeptical of the industry's prospects, saying that until Russians embraced computer-generated animation, they would not be on Hollywood's radar screen.

But that may come sooner than expected. In August, London-based United International Pictures plans to release Russia's first homegrown computer-animated film, Krakatuk, a modern version of the Nutcracker, said Yevgeny Beginin, head of UIP Russia.

Beginin is also trying to develop ties with another local studio working with computer-generated animation and has recently sent samples of its work to DreamWorks.

Dobrunov is also optimistic. He hopes to move from his current studio, in a tool factory in northern Moscow that boasts a statue of Lenin in front, to a state-of-the-art facility. And he'd like to build a theme park like Disneyland.

For now, he's focused on a sequel to "Prince Vladimir". The new film follows the exploits of the prince, famous for bringing Christianity to the Slavs in the 10th century.

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