Almost ten thousand kilometres separate the Cinema Aurora of Saint Petersburg and the Ussuri of Vladivostock, with a time lag of seven hours.
In the first case we are in Europe, a stone’s throw from Finland and Estonia, whilst in the second we’re in Asia: a two-hour flight brings you to Beijing or Pyonyang, whilst it takes eight hours to get to Moscow. Yet their spectators have a lot in common: for example their love of Italy, whose culture, lifestyle and films they adore.
More in particular, they are passionately keen on art documentaries from the Bel Paese.
We’re told all about it by Maria Bezenkova, Distribution Manager of Nevafilm Emotion, who is to be thanked for the spread of productions “made in Italy”, such as “Raffaello: Il Principe delle arti”, “Firenze e la Galleria degli Uffizi 3D”, “San Pietro e le Basiliche Papali 3D” / “Raffaello, the Prince of Arts”, “Florence and the Uffizi Gallery 3D”, “Saint Peter’s and the Papal Basilicas 3D”.
“Art documentaries,” says Maria, “are highly appreciated and are, in fact, becoming increasingly popular, to the extent that Nevafilm Emotion has decided to concentrate all its efforts on this trend. When we began distributing added content – a dozen or so years ago – it was Italian opera, obviously from La Scala, that we brought to Russia’s big screens. Nevertheless, we realized that the potential audience for this genre tends to remain stable: a mature audience, often with limited spending power. There are far more promising prospects for art content, able to attract spectators from different age ranges, generally decidedly younger, with greater economic resources and therefore willing to pay a premium.”
Indeed, in Russia, too, as on the European markets where MEDIA Salles records trends, added content is sold at a markedly higher average price.
A ticket for the première of an Italian art documentary in Moscow costs around 500 roubles (more or less 6.50 euros), two thirds higher than for film premières, offered at 300 roubles (around 4 euros).
“To get a more demanding audience – people from 24 to 35 – keen on art, the technical quality must be impeccable and it must be a production made specifically for the big screen, better still if it’s in 3D. Anything that comes over like a TV documentary doesn’t work. We then adapt these productions to our market, inviting experts on the cultural scene here in Russia, or film stars, to lend their voices for the dubbing and voice overs. So for the Uffizi, for example, we were able to count on Michail Borisovic Piotrovskij, Director of the Hermitage, for the Vatican Museums on Andrej Konchalovskij, for Caravaggio on Vladimir Epifantsev.”
This strategy allows Nevafilm Emotion to reach from thirty to fifty cities with each of these added con- tent offers, both in European and in Asian Russia, including the regions of Siberia and the Amur.
In its Cinema Pobeda (Victory), Novosibirsk, for example, the third largest city in Russia after Moscow and Saint Petersburg and a station on the mythical Transiberian railroad, offers a programme of Italian productions which, alongside seasons of full-length feature films, includes the most successful added content.
The cinemas that transform themselves into ambassadors of Italian culture range from specialty theatres to the bigger, more commercial multiplexes, including arthouse or “traditional” cinemas.
If it comes as no surprise that in Moscow the Centre for Documentaries is a reference point – a sort of boutique that makes international selections of the genre – it is not so readily expected that the big Rus- sian chains, such as Cinema Park, Formula Kino, Karo and Kinomax (which represent over 22% of the Country’s screens), should include Italian art in their offer.
“It is my hope,” continues Maria Bezenkova, “that art productions from Italy will continue and indeed increase – keeping up their technical standards and excellent spectator value – so as to satisfy a growing demand.”
While it is true that added content accounts for around 1% of the Russian film market – and this figure may seem negligible – it should not be forgotten that in 2017 Russia took over France’s historical lead- ing role, counting over 213 million spectators. In other words, from the ‘90s up to today, Russia has increased its audiences ten times over and established itself as a market on which the great film producing countries cannot fail to concentrate.
“I’d like to see a stronger offer of Italian classics and titles from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Every year here in Russia there are interesting festivals and contemporary Italian weeks. Comedies and melodramas are very popular but if they could be combined with a glimpse of previous productions, spectator satisfaction could be even further increased,” concludes Maria Bezenkova. Adding, “For me, Italy, its cinema and culture are a matter of business and love all in one!”