Cinema is perhaps the financially expensive of all art forms, and no one is more burdened with this than the producer of the film. Yet, he remains the most unsung aspect of the film itself. Russian film producer Alexander Gundorov, in attendance at the 10th Pune International Film Festival with his first feature film ‘Vorobey’ (Sparrow), does not mind this as long as the film as he wanted it to be is made. That itself is a concern. “It’s money,” he gestures.
Despite the presence of two translators, the Russian gentleman insists on speaking in broken, halting English as he talks about his film ‘Sparrow’, money, and the condition of films in Russia in general. “The situation is neither good not bad,” he says. “However, things are on the tumble as result of recession since 2008.” And, Hollywood is encroaching. “Earlier, there used to be at least 150 feature films in Russian every year. Post-2008, it has come down around 70 films per year. Of all the films released in Russia, only 25% of them are local productions. Of 75%, a major chuck is from Hollywood, most of which are dubbed to Russian.” And Indian films? “There may be one percent market for Indian movies.” Curiously, the dialogues of the Indian films are dubbed, while the song and dance sequences are kept as it is.
Not the market, but money that’s the main concern. There are around 8 production houses. “The ministry of culture sometimes funds portions of the film, but it’s not enough. So, it mostly depends upon sponsors. There is no guarantee of getting the money back, as piracy has almost killed the DVD homevideo market.”
But, passion remains. It is this passion that made Gundorov, an established producer of documentary films, finance his first foray into feature films. “I grew up in villages. But this village life is slowly dying, as cities are becoming more and more globalised. That is why we wanted to make this film on a village.”
The film tells the story of a remote Siberian village which treasures beautiful horses, and they are protected at any cost. Now, the chairman of the village council has lost public funds on an unsuccessful business venture and has decided to make up on the losses by selling the herd to a slaughterhouse. While the villagers are nonchalant about this new development, a 10-year-old son of a local shepherd stands up against the plot. His name is Sparrow.
Gundorov is not sure if the film is a ‘typical’ arthhouse film, but he agrees that it’s not a commercial venture as such.
Interestingly, ‘Sparrow’ also happens to be the directorial feature of Yuri Schiller, an experienced and well known documentary filmmaker. Both Gundorov and Schiller embarked on this project, despite financial constraint and all, because it was a subject close to their hearts.
Gundorov has produced more than 60 documentaries in Russian in varied subjects ranging from army to science and technology to history to modern Russia. And, how is modern Russian? “Modern Russian is full of possibilities,” says Gundorov.
Talk veers to well know Russian films, like Timur Bekmambetov’s ‘Nigth Watch’ (2004), which opened a new market for Russian films before the recession, and big budget films like Sergey Bodrov’s ‘Mongol’ (2007).
Gundorov would also like to make a big budget costume drama like ‘Mongol’ on a 14th Century Russian heroic figure. But, this will take years, blame it on the money. “I’m hoping to get a good amount of money from the ministry of culture, if not the entire amount.” We wish him luck.
More on Sparrow here.