The new season has been kicked off by two key cinema events, namely the high-profile festivals in Venice and Toronto.

The 75th Venice International Film Festival took place in Italy from August 29 to September 8. The main prize of the Mostra, the Golden Lion, was awarded to Roma, a drama by Alfonso Cuarón. The Favourite by Yorgos Lanthimos took two major awards: the Grand Jury Prize and the Volpi Cup for best actress for Olivia Colman. The Volpi Cup for best actor went to Willem Dafoe who starred in At the Eternity’s Gate by Julian Schnabel. Jacques Audiard was proclaimed the best director: he received the Silver Lion for Brothers Sisters while the prize for the best script was awarded to the Coen brothers for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

The main competition programme of this year featured 21 titles. They were judged by a jury presided by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. His colleagues were actress Naomi Watts, actor and director Christoph Waltz, actress and screenwriter Taika Waititi, director and screenwriter Paolo Genovese, director, screenwriter and producer Małgorzata Szumowska, director Nicole Garcia, actress and singer Trine Dyrholm, and actress, screenwriter and director Sylvia Chang.

In the Horizons competition section Russia was represented by The Man Who Surprised Everyone, a Natalia Merkulova and Alexey Chupov film that brought the best actress prize to Natalia Kudryashova.

The Man Who Surprised Everyone tells the story of a man who was diagnosed with cancer. He is trying to trick death by becoming a different person and embracing a changed identity. The film is a Russian-Estonian-French co-production.

Ekaterina Filippova, producer of The Man Who Surprised Everyone

‘We are very grateful to the Russian Ministry of Culture for support. This was the core funding that allowed us to start working. Then we found Estonian partners and French producers, won a Eurimages grant, and in the very end got an angel investment from Alexander Rodnyansky.

We unveiled the project for the first time at the FILMART market in Hong Kong, in the WIP HAF section dedicated to independent projects at the final stages of production. This platform allowed us to reach out to industry professionals, festival programmers, distributors, buyers, and sales companies. This is where our film caught the eyes of Venice programmers.

Main competition always means superstars and winners of the previous years. There is hardly any space for new blood while the Horizons section is a quest for new names, territories, and ideas. We are happy to be among true auteurs.’

Aquarela, the German-British project by the documentary icon Victor Kossakovsky was screened out of competition in the Non Fiction section. It is an experimental work filmed at a rate of 96 frames per second, a format invented by Kossakovsky himself. It pays tribute to water in all its forms presenting it a kind of live matter: an ancient, wize and powerful creature that lives alongside man.

Victor Kossakovsky, director of Aquarela:

‘When I was working on my previous film, ¡Vivan las Antípodas!, the protagonist, a little girl, looked at Lake Baikal and suddenly said: ‘In my next life I’d like to become water’. This phrase made me return to Lake Baikal once again and start making a new film, this time focusing on water. I have been around the world for four times already and I know for sure that Lake Baikal is the most beautiful place on Earth. This is no pretty-pretty tropical scenery: the place is raw and truly great.

At some point I started filming the glassy ice that is one meter thick when I saw a man going under. Eventually he got out and kept on walking, then went down again. I came running up to him, threw off my jacket, warmed him up and asked where he was going. His answer was: ‘Need to buy some cigarettes’. An incredible degree of surrealism.’

The same section of the Mostra featured The Trial by Sergei Loznitsa, a study of the Stalinist times. The film is comprised of restored 1930’s footage chronicling a show trial of a group of people accused of plotting against the Soviet government.

The National association of cinema and audiovisual industries (ANICA) organized a three-day industrial section at the Venice co-production market. This year’s focus was on China. The ANICA INCONTRA – FOCUS CHINA program took place from August 30 to September 1 and included panels, business coffees and lunches as well as screenings of Asian films, pitchings, and discussions.

On the last day there was a panel discussion on to the relevant issue of co-production and Asian cinema that was moderated by Roberto Stabile, Head of the International department of ANICA. The list of speakers included the President of China Film Co-Production Corporation Miao Xiaotian, Roskino CEO Katya Mtsitouridze, Head of the Cinema department of the Italian Ministry of Culture and Cultural Heritage Maria Giuseppina Troccoli, Head of RAI Cinema Asia Carlo Gentile, Program Director of Eurasia-Astana IFF Diana Ashimova, Creative Producer of Loaded Films Jason Gray, and Diplomatic Counsellor to the Italian Minister of Culture Marco Ricci.

Marco Ricci described the national film system, the role of public funds, and the advantages of co-productions.

Marco Ricci, Diplomatic Counsellor to the Italian Minister of Culture

‘In Italy we think that all art forms including cinema need support from the state. It is especially relevant for independent artists with a singular vision. Owing to our protectionist arrangements filming in Italy and with Italy has become more attractive.’

Carlo Gentile highlighted the role of media and TV in international co-productions.

Carlo Gentile, Head of RAI Cinema Asia:

‘The viewer today has a wide range of choice of what to watch and how: in a theater, at home or anywhere else on his own device. The media has a key role to play in the process: television can help to narrow down the choices. We show and promote, we inform of the recent developments in the art world. As for distribution, we must transcend boundaries and focus on co-productions.’

According to Miao Xiaotian, European producers and filmmakers must join forces with China where the market is prospering and the audiences are on the rise.

Miao Xiaotian, President of China Film Co-Production Corporation:

‘China’s film industry is booming, the audience is growing, the market is the second largest in the world and still expanding with a box office of US $2,5 bln. We have the biggest amount of screens and a high demand for co-production and international expansion. We have partnership agreements with 21 countries. Last year we made 63 international projects with 63 countries, including the new Jurassic Park installment. We held several productive meetings here in Venice and reached agreements on new joint projects.’

Katia Mtsitouridze, ROSKINO CEO:

‘I met Mr Miao Xiaotian at the Beijing Film Festival and was happy to pick up the threads in Venice. We have mapped out a plan of Russian-Chinese cooperation and potential co-productions and discussed the new installment of Viy directed by Alexey Petrukhin. The Mystery of Dragon’s Seal is a major project with Hollywood stars of the calibre of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Fleming and Jackie Chan on board. In the script the protagonist travels to China and most of the plot unfolds there. We have touched upon other collaboration prospects and the advantages of filming in Moscow, a world capital with a variety of top locations, world class professionals and a huge potential for international productions. The Moscow Film Commission initiated by Roskino with the support of the Moscow government is all set for streamlining organizational, administrative and production issues, advising on location scouting and facilitation of filming permits for sensitive sites. Moscow is ready for co-productions and potential partners are most welcome.’

Roberto Stabile, Head of International Department at ANICA:

‘As a representative of the national association of producers I would like to thank Roskino for our long-term partnership. We are currently working on an agreement that would allow us to expand cooperation in the area of co-production of Russian-Italian films and TV content. We are going to participate in the Cultural Forum in Saint Petersburg together.’

The 43th Toronto International Film Festival took place from September 6 to September 16, 2018. The line-up comprised 342 titles from over 80 countries, 87 more than last year. Several North American premieres jointly with a strong Latin American and European component attracted over 400 000 festival-goers.

TIFF follows the global trend of female empowerment by focusing on issues of sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement. Since the 2017 the festival has launched a special Share Your Journey initiative aimed at offering more opportunities to women behind and in front of the camera. On September 8 the festival held a Respect Rally to support female filmmakers.

Toronto has only one main prize which is the People’s Choice Award. This time it was won by Peter Farrelly’s Green Book.

The festival slate featured two Russian titles in the prestigious Contemporary World Cinema section: Core of the World by Natalia Meschaninova and The Factory by Yury Bykov.

The Russian delegation was brought to TIFF 2018 by ROSKINO supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation.

Core of the World is a drama co-written and directed by Natalia Meschaninova in a Russian-Latvian co-production. The protagonist, Egor, is a young vet at a training facility for hunting dogs somewhere in the backwoods. There is nothing but foxes, deer, badgers, and dogs. Egor lives in a lean-to shed next to the owner’s family, treats animals, oversees workhands, greets clients and their dogs. Getting along with animals is much easier for him than dealing with humans. And yet he is willing to take on any job to get closer to the facility’s owner and his near and dear. He strives for the impossible: to become a member of that family.

Natalia Meschaninova, Core of the World director and co-writer:

In a way the main character reflects the personality of Stepan Devonin, my husband, intimate friend and co-writer. They are people of the same kind. His lines were written with Stepan in mind, I could not but take his personality into account. Moreover, Stepan had also trained as a vet at some point. We did not have to teach him the ways of the medical workers. He knows the drill better than anyone, he even treats our own dogs and performs most manipulations without professional help. We have three terriers and we’ve been through many dangerous places. There were moments when I thought one of our dogs was really dying and my heart almost stopped but he would carry on in a most calm and efficient way.

Stepan had to lose 30 kilos for the film and make special exercises. This way he looked younger, which was what I actually wanted: a plump forlorn guy doesn't really make sense.

When I create a character I want people to relate to this person. I don’t really know how it works, there are no precise recipes. Egor is not a rigid substance, he has many different feelings that you get involved in while you watch the movie, and you end up loving him. I did not mean to narrate his whole life story, it was enough to suggest that Egor has had a difficult past and his relationship with his mother was really problematic. He feels a great pain inside, and his feelings towards the past he is trying to escape are very intense and very ambiguous, he loves and hates it at the same time.

I kept wandering how to show the lack of affection in my character’s life in an indirect way. The people in the film hardly know how to communicate with each other, and the protagonist is no exception. He is always afraid to be punished, unloved, rejected. This is the reason the animal world is so sweet to him. Animals are never going to reject him, dogs will not chase him away from their cage, their love is unconditional.’

Stepan Devonin, actor, Core of the World co-writer:

‘I love animals. My parents wanted me to become a doctor and treat people. I was an A-level award-winning student and I could have entered the medical school in Smolensk hands down but I lashed out and went to Moscow to enroll into the Skryabin Academy of Veterinary Medicine. After one year I lashed out again and decided to become an actor. Brushed up on some poems from the school curriculum and entered the Moscow Art Theatre School.

When you are dealing with animals, the main thing is to keep calm. They sense stress at once. But the main problem was getting into the cage with the dogs. They normally do not attack humans but as soon as I entered they would start competing and turning on each other. I could suppress them but in that case they would have been too afraid to work. Or I could miss the right moment and find myself in the middle of a fight, in a total mayhem. So it was essential to keep balance. And it took a lot of training. I wanted to create a character that was not me, and do it in a way that would eliminate any trace of acting. My aim was to kill the actor in me. Don’t know if I succeeded, it is for you to see and decide.’

Natalya Drozd, Core of the World producer:

‘Our film was received very well in Toronto, the director Natalia Meschaninova was very happy with the professional audience and the general public.

Festival achievements are crucial for any release. We had fully packed theatres and a great press, all of which was instrumental in the competition. Luckily, we had a great press agent and we are very grateful to Roskino for advertising and promoting our film. At the moment we are drawing up the balance of the festival and our sales agents are going to finalize the deals.’

The second Russian title in the TIFF 2018 lineup was The Factory, a social thriller written, directed and co-produced by Yury Bykov in a joint Russian-Armenian-French effort.

After a local oligarch purchases a factory in a small Russian town and announces its closure, hundreds of blue collar workers are left with no means of support. Everyone meekly accepts this fate except for six desperate and reckless men who decide to kidnap the oligarch in order to get what is theirs. Greyhair, the roughneck leader, is an ex-military badly shell-shocked in a hot zone. Together with his comrades he initiates a mortal combat with the heavily armed bodyguards of the oligarch led by a man known as Fog. The outcome of the combat will show who is going to have the better hand, the rich or the poor. The cast includes Denis Shvedov, Andrey Smolyakov, Vladislav Abashin, Alexandr Bukharov, Ivan Yankovsky, and many more.

Charles-Evrard Tchekhoff, The Factory producer:

‘The festival in Toronto is one of the key events in the cinema world, this is where the premieres of future Academy Award winners are normally held. A well-planned promotion and awareness-raising campaign is crucial in order not to get lost, and we are most thankful for the support of Roskino in that respect. All public screenings were sold out and the market screenings were well attended, which means our film is able to attract both industry professionals and the general public. I see a good international potential here. Our partner for international distribution is currently finalizing the deals and we will be able to disclose them in the nearest future.’

Katya Mtsitouridze, Roskino CEO:

‘Over the recent years Toronto has become one of the most advanced world capitals in terms of art, entertainment and media industry. TIFF is gaining momentum, power and authority every year. This year’s edition was very successful for us. The line-up featured two interesting Russian titles that attracted a lot of attention from the public and the press alike. The reviews were extremely positive. The North American market received both films very favourably and with a well-planned marketing campaign they may well become successful. The Roskino - Russian Cinema Worldwide umbrella booth organized within the industry framework of the festival also enjoyed a lot of attention from international buyers.’

The umbrella ROSKINO – RUSSIAN CINEMA WORLDWIDE stand brought to Toronto with the support of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation starred in the TIFF 2018 industry program.

The traditional protagonists were Central Partnership, All Media, Planeta Inform, Mars Media, Russian World Vision, Indie Vision, Wizart: a total of over 35 production and distribution companies.

ROSKINO presented an updated version of the DOORS international travelling film market catalogue featuring best national titles of 2016-2018.

The portfolio of Central Partnership featured an array of projects including the Gogol trilogy by Egor Baranov, In the Hood by Olga Zueva, The Fixies vs Crabots, a second feature in the successful franchise, Guests by Evgeny Abyzov, Baba Yaga by Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy, Billion by Roman Prygunov, and How I became Russian by Akaki Sakhelashvili and Xia Hao. Negotiations went on for Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy’s The Mermaid. Lake of the Dead, Coach by Danila Kozlovsky, Three seconds by Anton Megerdichev, and The Fixies: Top Secret.

Katerina Pshenitsyna, CP International sales director:

‘Central Partnership had a very intense time at the Toronto market. We started pre-sales of four new projects that became an instant success with international buyers: the new horror by Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy, Baba Yaga. Terror of the Dark Forest, a family animation titled The Fixies vs Crabots, Olga Zueva’s drama In the Hood and Billion, an adventure action starring Vladimir Mashkov. At the moment we are finalizing the deals for several Asian territories that are going to be disclosed in due time.’

All Media presented The Conquest of Siberia, Igor Zaytsev’s epic tale of the conquest of Siberia produced by Yellow, Black and White Studio, an efficient combination of period details, fast-paced narrative, and a story of first love unravelling in the times of Peter the Great. The catalogue also included the second installment of Dmitry Dyachenko’s popular franchise, The Superfamily -2.

Zhanna Shakhshaeva, All Media Head of international Department:

‘Our main highlight in Toronto was Sobibor by Konstantin Khabensky along with two new projects: The Conquest of Siberia, an epic produced by Yellow Black and White Studio, and Saving Leningrad, a war drama. The two titles cannot be more diverse: one is a period epic rich in colourful details, the other is a wartime drama based on a true story that took place during the siege of Leningrad. But both films are great in their own way. International buyers are very much looking forward to them. As for Sobibor, the Russian candidate for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award, we have already closed the deals for most key territories. In Toronto we held negotiations with several other important countries such as Italy and China and are currently finalizing the deals.’

Wizart unveiled two much-anticipated animation projects, The Snow Queen: Mirrorland and Sheep & Wolves: Pig Deal.

The studio is currently putting the final touches to the fourth installment of the Snow Queen franchise, a Yury Moskvin, Vladimir Nikolaev, Boris Mashkovstsev and Pavel Stepanov co-production with Central Partnership and Soyuzmultfilm. Mirrorland is directed by Alexey Tsitsilin and Robert Lence (Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Toy Story, Shrek etc). The Russian public will be able to enjoy the fruit of their work starting from January 1, 2019.

Another major Wizart project is the next part of the popular Sheep & Wolves franchise, Pig Deal. The latest adventures of the wolf Grey, the she-wolf Bianca, the ram Ziko and the ewe Lyra will be released on January 24, 2019. The animation is a Sergey Selyanov, Yury Moskvin and Vladimir Nikolaev co-production with CTB Film Company. The film is directed by Vladimir Nikolaev and written by Alexey Tsitsilin, Vladimir Nikolav and Roeber Lence.

Anna Pokorskaya, Wizart international sales and licensing manager:

‘At the Toronto market we held meetings with buyers from our key territories: China, US, and Latin America. We have also formalized our agreements with the Chinese distributor HY Media/CAYIE INTERNATIONAL MEDIA GROUP LIMITED that is investing in production and Chinese distribution of The Snow Queen: Mirrorland and proceeded to sign an official trilateral agreement with the Russian Export Center at the Eastern Economic Forum. We hope that this high-profile event will be able to draw additional attention to our product, thus allowing Wizart to expand in Southeast Asia.’

Planeta Inform showcased several new horrors.

Cursed Seat by Nadezhda Mikhalkova is slated for domestic release on October 25. It is a teen horror thriller telling the story of a bunch of high school kids who learn the secret behind the urban legend of the cursed place. Apparently, everyone who gets a certain seat in the local movie theatre is doomed. At first no one takes it seriously but a series of gruesome events forces the kids to reconsider their attitude and start an investigation of their own that soon gets them into the thick of action.

Ilya Maximov’s mystery thriller The Soul Conductor is the story of Katya, a girl with a powerful gift: she sees ghosts. When her twin sister disappears, Katya embarks on a desperate search. The police insist that her sister does not exist at all, she is but a figment of Katya’s own sick imagination. Meanwhile Katya discovers that there is a serial killer loose on the streets, and her sister is just one of his many victims. There is still hope to save her, but in a dark and mysterious city full of secrets no one can be trusted. Not even Katya herself. The domestic release of this film is planned for November, 2018.

Dawn by Pavel Sidorov is a horror produced by Dmitry Litvinov and Vladislav Severtsev, the duo behind the international success of The Bride. The film is slated for domestic release on January 31, 2019. The protagonist is a girl who loses her brother in mysterious circumstances. She suffers from vivid nightmares and decides to undergo a treatment in a somnology institute where she is induced into a conscious dream shared with other patients. But come dawn they wake up in a different reality that is worse than any nightmare.

The only documentary in the Planeta Inform portfolio is Surf Siberia by Konstantin Kokorev, a feature on the singular Russian surfing culture, a tribute to the joys of true and free life that unfolds between the surprisingly even waves of the Baltic sea, the powerful oceanic swells of Kamchatka, the Black Sea and the Arctic. The waves are the center and meaning of life for the protagonists of this story.

Anastasia Bankovskaya, International Sales & Acquisitions Director at Planeta Inform:

‘We had a very intense time at the Toronto market, over 50 meetings were held at the Roskino booth. The buyers were interested mostly in our new horror The Dawn, family sci-fi action thriller Robo and sci-fi thriller Coma. The Surf Siberia documentary also got its share of attention along with the teen thriller The Cursed Seat and the thriller The Soul Conductor. We are discussing several proposals received during the market.’

Mars Media focused on the distribution of T-34, a military action by Alexey Sidorov, and The Ideal, a mystery drama by Kirill Pletnev, along with a number of other new projects.

Mila Rozanova, Mars Media International Sales Manager:

‘In Toronto we focused on our flagship project, T-34. The film is now in post-production. Some of the materials were screened in Berlin and Cannes, then we received offers from each and every important territory, and I am not exaggerating. We are trying to secure a well-deserved theatrical release for every country, so negotiations take time. The most active sales phase is going to start in November at the AFM in LA when we screen a finalized copy with most the CG in place but already in Toronto we have completed two major deals for Germany and German-speaking countries and for Benelux. In both cases we have reached an agreement on theatrical releases. At an earlier stage the film was sold to Korea (Korea Screen), Spain (Mediaset), and the Baltic countries (Garsu). The ROSKINO - RUSSIAN CINEMA WORLDWIDE booth in Toronto allowed us to get a number of interesting offers from major Chinese distributors that are willing to slate a wide release for 2019 with a full-scale promo campaign. They think this film is comparable to Stalingrad that earned over $11 mln in China. All in all, the market in Toronto was very fruitful.’

RUSSIAN WORLD VISION carried on negotiations for Tankers by Konstantin Maximov and Break by Tigran Saakyan. These titles are slated for domestic release in October, 2018 and January, 2019 respectively and rights for several European and Asian territories have already been sold. Insuperable is also going to be sold to Scandinavia.

All or Nothing by Dmitry Suvorov was first unveiled in Toronto and instantly attracted Chinese distributors. China is also interested in Temporary Difficulties by Mikhail Raskhodnikov that is getting a release in Israel, Cyprus and UAE, as well as The First by Dmitry Suvorov.

On top of that, The Champions directed by Alexey Vakulov, Artem Aksyonenko, Dmitry Dyuzhev and Emil Nikogosyan; Champions: Faster, Higher, Stronger by Artem Aksyonenko, and Quiet Gate by Sergey Makhovikov found a Chinese distributor, and rights for several other titles were resold.