The Cannes Film Festival is in full swing and at least two distributors are bowing their Cannes cache this weekend. Zeitgeist Films is debuting Elena in the U.S. The film won awards in Cannes and elsewhere before its long (and somewhat bizarre) road to the screen. Sundance Selects, meanwhile will roll out French César and Cannes winner Polisse in theaters and day-and-date VOD using some of its past offerings as a distribution template. Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black’s directorial debut Virginia opens in limited release and documentary Never Stand Still starts its rollout in New York before heading to other cities.
Director Andrei Zvyagintsev
Writer: Oleg Negin
Cast: Nadezhda Markina, Andrey Smirnov, Aleksey Rozin
Distributor: Zeitgeist Films
Elena started as an English-language project spearheaded by a British producer who had an idea for a film about the Apocalypse. Four directors from four continents were attached, with Zvyagintsev set to represent Europe, but the project fell through. The director didn’t want to give up and pitched it to a number of Russian producers who declined, but finally met producer Alexander Rodnyansky. “It took me one night to read the script, call him back and say that I am ready to produce and finance it,” said Rodnyansky told Deadline. “It has been a very rewarding experience both from the creative and financial points of view.”
With Russian financing set and a Russian-language script, Zvyagintsev cast relative newcomer Nadezhda Markina as the lead, which was a risk. “She’s not a celebrity so to speak,” said Rodnyansky. “In fact, her filmography list is rather short — some minor roles in a few films or TV series.” But the choice turned out well, Rodnyansky said, praising her “nuanced” and “multi-dimensional” approach to the role, which also garnered her some acting nods including the Durban International Film Festival and the Festival Nouveau Cinema Montreal. Also in the cast is Andrey Smirnov, a big name in Russia, having directing some Soviet-era classics. Forced to take a hiatus from filmmaking, he took up acting and appeared in Elena, though even that almost come together due to a conflict with his own return behind the camera after a nearly three decade absence. After a latenight persuasion session aided by a bottle of Calvados, Zvyagintsev along with his wife and son convinced the director/actor to stay on board. “They managed to arrange a special shooting schedule for Smirnov so that he could have fewer shooting days and not to have a long break in his editing,” noted Rodnyansky.