EDN MEMBER OF THE MONTH – Nikita Tikhonov-Rau
In this monthly interview series EDN focuses on one of its many members to show both members in the spotlight and the diversity of the EDN membership group.
Our EDN member of the month for January 2015 is Nikita Tikhonov-Rau, Director and Producer, Artvideo Studio Ltd., Russia.
EDN has talked to Nikita Tikhonov-Rau about his current projects and the work of the Russian Documentary Guild, where Nikita is vice-president.
Nikita Tikhonov-Rau was born in 1980 in Moscow in a family with Russian, German, Polish, Ukrainian and Jewish roots. He always wanted to create films on universal subjects, and in 2005 he graduated from the Higher Courses of Directors and Scriptwriters in Moscow, Russia. Having worked for 7 years for major Russian TV channels he has created over 30 documentaries mostly focused on ethical issues of science, art, religion, philosophy and politics. In 2011 with Olga Arlauskas he founded the production company Artvideo Studio Ltd., based in Moscow, Russia and Bilbao, Spain. The company specializes in current affairs and social issue films about Russia. In 2012 Nikita became vice-president of The Russian Documentary Guild (www.rgdoc.ru), managing documentary film distribution and The National DOKclub Network.
EDN: Can you start by telling a bit more about your background and your road into the world of documentaries?
NTR: My parents are documentary filmmakers. They’ve done over 30 films on Russian stars of classical music and ballet including: Mikhail Pletnev, Maya Plisetskaya, Maris Liepa, Sergei Dyagilev, Nikolai Tsiskaridze and others. Since early childhood I used to watch the way they were working on their amazing projects. And after getting my education in international copyright I got my diploma as a filmmaker at Higher Courses of Directors and Scriptwriters in Moscow, where our teachers were such film directors as Krzysztof Zanussi, Herz Frank, Nikita Mikhalkov, Petr Todorovsky, Andrei Konchalovsky, and Andrei Zvyagintsev. All of these people helped me formulate what I wanted.
In Russia, where there are so many problems, it’s very exciting to be a documentary filmmaker. Everywhere you look there is a subject to make a film about.
EDN: In 2011 you launched your own company. What was the motivation behind this? Why did you decide to establish offices in both Russia and Spain?
NTR: By the year 2010 we’d done over 20 projects for Russian TV Channels as directors and that gave us understanding that getting real creative freedom is only possible when you also produce the film. That’s why we decided to found Artvideo Studio Ltd. /www.artvideostudio.tv/, which is now quite a renowned production company both in Russia and on the international market. My wife and cofounder of the company is Olga Arlauskas, who used to live in the Basque Country for 17 years. We decided to have 2 offices of the company both in Moscow, Russia and Bilbao, Spain, providing our partners the possibility to coproduce with Russia, but at the same time signing contracts with a Europebased company. This helps our partners and us evade additional costs and minimize risks.
Making a coproduction with Russia is therefore more easy now. You can do it, signing a contract with our Spanish company Artvideo Studio SL, a European company, which also has a certificate of inscription of cinematographic organizations of ICAA (the Spanish Ministry of Culture, Education and Sports).
EDN: The company specializes in current affairs and social issue films about Russia. How do you find the projects and partners to work with?
NTR: Our first project made for the international market is the documentary Children of the State /www.childrenofthestate.net/, which is now distributed by CatnDocs. We’re really glad we have such a strong distribution company as our partner and hope to have a long way
together bringing to the world screens the most ambitious, powerful and moving documentaries about Russia.
Recently we’ve made a marketing research, revealing what kind of topics from Russia are the most interesting for the European audience. And now we’re working out our production lineup to propose to our European colleagues some very promising projects for coproduction, commissioning and distribution.
EDN: Having a focus on Russian content – has the recent political climate and conflict between Russia and the EU effected your productions and the distribution?
NTR: It has impacted greatly. We feel that as a production company we’re on the right way. Being a Russian and at the same time deeply linked with the European culture, watching both news of CNN, BBC, TVE and on the other hand Russian channels, I feel there are great problems in objectivity from both sides. It seems to me documentary films on current affairs remain the last open window for the people to see the reality without any mass media distortion if it comes to political issues. As a documentary filmmaker I’m always on the side of ordinary people.
Due to propaganda, the State started to watch over more precisely the content of the films. The Ministry of Culture of Russia has introduced certificates, which are obligatory for any public screenings of any film. It’s very important these certificates don’t suppress the right of an artist to express his point of view.
EDN: Has it become more difficult to work with documentaries within Russia during the last years?
NTR: For the majority of producers yes. And it’s a result of the lack of competitive mechanisms within the doc industry in Russia. The TV production market is held by 67 major production companies, which are affiliated with the channels. They hold 90% of the market. The big companies get bigger. The small ones die. If they don’t find a market niche to work in, they won’t be competitive. But I think if you develop your skills, if you extend your knowledge, if you manage to stay openminded, you’ll find ways to finance, produce and distribute. The market is global and needs exclusive stories.
EDN: Which projects are you currently working on?
NTR: We’re working on 3 documentaries for Channel One Russia, including such topics as children disappearance, late marriage and late childbirth. Also we’re starting our cooperation with the NTV channel with some new projects in docu reality style.
Also we’re producing 2 international projects: “The Last Russian Orca”, which is the first documentary, revealing the inside of the world orca business. This project is supported by some of the major Orca NGOs, such as Orca Research Trust and FEROP. The Orca project is the first cinematographic current affair ecological project for us, which we produce in cooperation with Gayane Petrosyan from the Baikal Cinema Company, specializing in underwater cinematographic projects in Russia.
Another project’s working title is “Taste the Happiness”, supported by the Ministry of Culture. It’s a film about how 3 families from Russia, Ukraine and Georgia gather at one table to have dinner. It’s a mystery how people can overcome any conflicts and prejudice when they are sharing food. It’s a film about traditions, tolerance and love, notwithstanding all the attempts of the states to make the people unhappy.
EDN: What are the funding possibilities for documentaries within Russia? Which TV channels mostly buy and screen documentaries?
NTR: The channels mostly don’t buy films for screenings. Usually they produce the films together with production companies. They know the format they want, they know their audience and usually work with affiliated companies. Channel One Russia, NTV, RENTV, TVC, TV Kultura and generally the VGTRK holding have their documentary strands, but it’s a highly formatted doc product, where there’s almost no place for creative documentaries. The only talk show I’d like to mention is the Watch&Discuss show on TV Kultura, which weekly shows best world award-winning documentaries. Apart from that there’s a special doc channel, which is called 24DOC. I know that it’s being relaunched this spring and we need to pay more attention to the possibilities which might open there.
The creative documentaries are financed by the Ministry of Culture, which annually spends nearly 56 mln Euro for 300400 films. According to our estimates, these films are half of the total amount of independent films annually produced in Russia.
EDN: You are the vice-president of The Russian Documentary Guild. What are the objectives behind the organisation and the motivations for launching it?
NTR: The aim of Russian Documentary Guild is to build the doc industry inside of Russia and link it to the world industry. We’re amazed with how the doc industry is built in the EU and US. One of the strategies we follow is copying best world practices. But we do it creatively. Some of the things are our knowhows, so we’re not only copying.
For example as far as I know none of the countries have The annual National Documentary Film Rating, ranking the most efficient creative documentary films according to their Festival and TV screenings. This rating helps us understand who are the leaders of the industry, who are really efficient producers, who are the most award-winning directors. This rating is the result of an enormous work made particularly by the vice-president of the Guild Georgy Molodtsov, whose idea it was. In 2015 the plan is to publish the results of the year 2014.
EDN: How is it funded and organised?
NTR: We have nearly 250 members. Also we have payments from our corporate members. Also some of our projects get support from the Ministry of Culture. We also have support from private donations, people who love doc films and want to contribute.
Concerning the organization scheme. We have The President. For the time being it’s Evgeniy Grigoriev, who’s a real leader and a person who understands the industry and how it should function. Also we have vice-presidents who manage particular sectors: development of the Guild (Olga Kurina) educational programs (Nikita Sutyrin), TVprojects (Maria Miro), website development and National Documentary Film Rating (Georgy Molodtsov). Georgy and me do the international promotion too. I’m responsible for the distribution programs and National DOKclub Network.
Our team does the operations management of the Guild. Also there is the Management board, consisting of nearly 20 leaders of the industry, who work out the strategy of the Guild. Also annually we have a General meeting of the members.
EDN: You are building The National DOKclub Network within the guild. What is the function and idea behind this network?
NTR: Russia is enormous. The main idea is providing the people of Russia the possibility to see the documentaries they can’t watch on TV. We want to create a common DOKspace, where people from different regions will have the same access to films and discussions of these films. Also we want to legalize all public screenings. We’ve worked out a partnership contract, which gives us the possibility to unite various clubs into one network.
EDN: What are the Guild’s current projects and goals for 2015?
NTR: We plan to raise membership up to 400 people. The amount of the legal entities should rise up to 15. We want to raise the number of the clubs within the National DOKclub Network up to 40. We plan to divide the website into two parts: industrial and public. So we plan to launch the public part and site and translate the site into English.
Among our projects are also getting a cooperation with the Netfilm company (www.netfilm.ru/en), holding almost all the rights for Soviet documentary films and archive footage. Now we’re working on common plans in distribution and cobranding at international markets. This is a part of our current projects, which are on the run.
EDN: Can documentary professionals from outside Russia benefit from the work and information from the Guild?
NTR: Yes, sure. Information is the king. The Guild provides it. The international market already benefits from the Guild’s work. Russian directors started to submit their projects and films to international festivals and markets more actively. International distributors make contracts with Russian filmmakers. TV Channels rarely invest into Russian projects, but we think it’s because they lack information on who might be their partners here in Russia. In 2015 we plan to provide this info for the EDN CoProduction Guide.
The entrance point to the world of Russian Doc is RGDOC.RU. When we launch the English version of the RGDOC site, it’ll be the same effect as Russian Tsar Peter the Great achieved, when started his cooperation with Europe.
I strongly believe all the difficulties in RussiaEU partnership are temporary because generally the system of values is the same. And it’s European. Even if there are any differences, documentary films will help us understand each other better like nothing else.
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