Alexander Rodnyansky On Fleeing Russia, Supporting Ukraine Talent & Why He Feels Responsible For Honest Filmmakers In Both Countries

When Deadline featured Alexander Rodnyansky for its International Disruptors column back in 2021, the media mogul said he’d “had five lives” when looking back at his prolific media career which spanned documentary filmmaking, founding Ukraine’s first indie TV network 1+1, managing Russian media company CTC and producing indie films.

But now, one and a half years after that interview, the Kyiv-born super producer has embarked on yet another life, but this time far away from the country in which he built his career. Last year, one week after Russia invaded Ukraine, Rodnyansky fled his Moscow home of two decades with his wife and one suitcase. Having made no secret of his opposition to the war, the producer got wind that he was rousing suspicion within Russia’s top government heads and decided to sever ties with the country.

Related Story

Fox News' Benjamin Hall On His Rescue & Recovery From Near-Death Attack In Ukraine: "I Just Think That I Have Survived, And I Have To Make The Best Out Of It"

“We left the house and everything and since that moment I have not been back to Russia,” Rodnyansky tells Deadline. “I no longer have any business with Russia and no longer own the company behind all of my recent films, NonStop Productions.”

Shortly after he fled, Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu called for the country to ban all of Rodnyansky’s work and now, not only is he considered persona non grata in Russia but his name has since been taken off the credits in Russia of projects he’s worked on, such as TV show The Nanny, a huge flagship show for local commercial TV station CTC, where his name was blurred.

“I don’t really care about that as it’s not important, speaking frankly, during this war,” he says. “But what makes me worried is when I hear from my friends who stayed in Russia and are still there, is that they have been harassed by the authorities and many of them have been interrogated due to their previous work with me.”

The exec is one of the most well-respected producers to come out of Russia and he’s spent the last decade of his career focusing on developing and producing international content and global content out of Russia. He also was behind the Kinotavr Film Festival in Russia, which he owned and ran for years. “I never envisaged the separation with Russia to happen in such a dramatic and sudden way,” he says. “To start life again, when you’ve lost everything, your company, the festival you ran, your house where you lived for 20 years and a happy family life – it’s not easy but I feel it’s ok. It’s a new beginning.”

But Rodnyansky continues to fight the good fight. He has long been known for working with Russia’s grassroot filmmakers such as Leviathan and Loveless helmer Andrey Zvyaginstev while also championing the country’s burgeoning voices such as Kira Kovalenko, who won Un Certain Regard in Cannes in 2021 with Unclenching the Fists and, he says, he will continue to do this where possible.

Currently spending his time between Los Angeles and Kyiv, he’s got a healthy slate of projects in development from both Russian and Ukrainian talent through his AR Content banner.

He’s got projects in development with a clutch of Russian directors who he had already been working with but have since left the country in the wake of the war. The producer is reteaming with his Leviathan and Loveless director Andrey Zvagintsev, who is in Paris writing a Russian-language project set to shoot this year which Rodnyansky describes to be “in a similar vein” to the director’s previous projects, which examine the “psychological mood” of Russia’s society.

He’s also teaming again with Unclenching the Fists director Kira Kovalenko and her partner director Kantemir Balagov who both relocated to L.A. with Rodnyansky’s assistance after the war started last year. Kovalenko’s project is called Holy Fools and is “an intense drama and family story” set in a small town in the U.S.

“It’s really emotional and a very personal, very contemporary story about a strong female character,” he says.

The producer is also developing Balagov’s next project called Butterfly Jam, which is a U.S. version of what was initially going to be a Russian project called Monica. That project pivoted and is now set in New Jersey, which he describes as a very “interesting and nuanced” story about “the complex relationship between a father and son.”

“It’s about a 13-year-old boy and the relationship with his father who he adores but he possesses qualities that his father doesn’t,” he says. “It’s very tender and has elements of a coming-of-age story to it.” The project is co-written by Balagov and Russian author Marina Stepnova.

Additionally, Rodnyansky is teaming with U.S. documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy on a doc about a little-known refugee crisis, which saw a transatlantic liner carrying Jews feeling Germany immediately before World War II broke out, only to be turned away by the U.S. and Cuba and forced to return to Europe. Many of its passengers ultimately died in the Holocaust. “It’s an epic documentary about refugees and now we will include the Ukrainian angle as well.”

Rodnyansky has also wrapped shooting experimental title Neooonowww, which he produced with Steven Soderberg. The Godfrey Reggio-directed 40-minute title looks at new culture in a world threatened by ecological collapse and unprecedented technological transformation. He’s also still working on his limited series Debriefing the President based on John Nixon’s book of the same name in which former CIA analyst Nixon talks about his experience of being the first American to identify and interrogate Saddam Hussein following his 2003 capture. Joel Kinnaman is set to star as Nixon.

But for Rodnyansky, it’s imperative that he supports Ukrainian filmmakers right now and he’s currently working on The Dissident, a Cold War drama that follows a former Ukrainian resistance fighter who seeks to rebuild his life after he is released from a Soviet prison camp. The project is the debut feature from Ukrainian film critic Andriy Alferov and music and commercial helmer Stas Gurenko and Rodnyansky will produce with Oleksandr Omelyanov.

The producer is also working on a new feature from Ukrainian hlemer Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi, who directed 2014 Cannes Critics’ week feature The Tribe. The new project is based on The Atlantic article “We Can Only Be Enemies,” written last year by Soviet dissident Peter Peomerantsev. Slaboshpytski is currently writing the script, which is about a Ukrainian family living under the Russian occupation. Anonymous Content is also aboard to produce.

“It’s a real story based on true events and a real family,” says Rodnyansky. “We are in touch with the family and it’s a very intense and dramatic story. It was integral that we had a Ukrainian director for this project and Miroslav is perfect for this. I’m trying to work with the most talented people from both markets and both territories to do international and universal stories that will be able to cross borders. This is an authentic, Ukrainian-language story.”

As the war continues in Ukraine, there continue to be calls for a boycott on Russian art and culture. Rodnyansky points to the number of Russian intellectuals, filmmakers, writers, journalists and creatives who are openly against the war and says judging them “just as Russians” is unhelpful. 

“On one side I completely share the pain and anger of Ukrainians,” he says. “I’ve spoken with so many Ukrainian filmmakers and I understand where this anger is coming from. That is very obvious. When they are fighting Russia’s bloody aggression against Ukraine, this is not a great position to be in to defend Russian culture.”

But, he adds, “I personally believe people should not be judged on their passports or where they were born but on what they do in their life. You can’t control the place of your birth, but you can influence things by what you do.”

He stresses that Russia “can only be changed from within” and therefore Russian culture can be “very effective in this process.”

“Russian culture has played an enormously important role through all the years of Russian history. It’s been anti-war and very human, and many filmmakers’ voices or musicians have been trying to prevent the transformation of many people into barbarians.

“Collective responsibility, this is something that everyone who lives in Russia should feel. This is something we share all together. What has happened in the country, in many ways, happened not just because of very few bad guys ruling the country but because of the apathy of many others and the absence of passionate energy to protect these processes that happen in the country. So, I believe that Russian culture is very important to speak to these people to make them change.”

He adds, “I don’t think in contemporary Russia it is possible to do the movies I used to do before. I believe they have a huge deal of censorship, and they have a lot of repressions of open-minded people, all people who are not in agreement with what is going on in Russia. And that’s why I feel completely privileged by the idea of continuing working and doing what I’m trying to do. I also feel very responsible for the honest filmmakers, the great people who love the country and who want to work on their own. I’m very much committed to helping them make their stories into movies. Everything else for them is very complicated.”

Must Read Stories

Disney EMEA Staff Bracing For Layoffs & Content Cuts

Michael Mann Eyeing ‘Heat 2’ As Next Film; Warner Bros In Negotiations, Adam Driver In Talks

Sets Strike Authorization Vote Date: “Must Demonstrate Our Willingness To Fight”

Donald Trump Wins Bid To Keep TV Cameras Out Of Tuesday’s Arraignment Hearing

Read More About:

Source: Read Full Article