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Documentary ‘Ctrl: Z. Russian Voices’ Sells Across Europe

“Ctrl: Z. Russian Voices,” a documentary that examines the impact of the Ukraine war on the everyday lives of people in a small Russian town, has sold to broadcasters across Europe, including Franco-German channel Arte, TV 3 in Spain and CNN in Portugal.

Distributed internationally by Paris-based Java Films, the documentary was filmed in the small Russian town where director Natacha Rostova, using a pseudonym, grew up. It examines the lasting effects the ongoing conflict is having on the lives of ordinary people, families and couples. While some are silenced, often too afraid to speak out, others have become fervent opponents of the war.

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Swiss public broadcaster RTS and RTBF in Belgium have also acquired the documentary.

The project has been through many changes, according to Java Films. “In its original form, the risks to the director and the contributors of producing this film in Russia were too great. The contributors’ identities have been obscured for their own protection, and the director is using a pseudonym.”

“Ctrl: Z. Russian Voices” is the first production from Geneva-based Bizarre Productions, the new company launched by Gaspard Lamunière, who previously served as commissioning editor at Swiss public broadcaster RTS.

“For a producer, the project ‘Russian Voices’ was a gift,” Lamunière said. “Bringing testimonies from soldiers and their relatives outside of the country was an incredible opportunity for Natacha Rostova’s project. At only 24, she was brave enough to shoot her film undercover, gaining trust from her characters.”

The documentary is among a large number of hard-hitting and hot-selling titles from Java Films that center on some of the world’s most critical geopolitical flashpoints.

The company has been seeking more flexible content, with multiple lengths, according to Rebecca Nicholls, Java’s London-based sales and acquisitions manager. The distributor has found that bingeable series are often preferred by platforms, whereas 52-minute single docs are still essential for broadcasters with limited slots. The recent buyers of “Ctrl: Z. Russian Voices” are also broadcasting a 52-minute version.

Nicholls also points to its recent hit “Cryptoqueen – The OneCoin Scam,” which chronicles the story of the fake cryptocurrency and its charismatic founder, Ruja Ignatova, who stole up to $15 billion from trusting investors.

Produced by Emmy Award-winning production company A&O Buero, the documentary was launched at Mipcom, and is screening at the European Film Market in Berlin this week. The production is available as a 90 minute feature doc, a four-part series or as a TV hour.

Interest has been split equally between the film version and the series version, Nicholls added. The series version was broadcast on Arte and sold to YLE Finland and VGTV in Norway, whereas the film version sold to UR in Sweden and Channel 8 in Israel, with more deals close to signature.

“We’ve been pursuing this strategy for some time now,” Nicholls said. “It started with ‘Sweatshop – Deadly Fashion’ by Hacienda Film, which was a hugely successful web series. We took it on as a series, but Hacienda also repurposed the content into a 52-minute single documentary. The film was picked up by traditional broadcasters like WDR and VRT.

“Meanwhile the series version meant that we also had a great offer for aggregators and platforms. Now, with an increasing focus on AVOD, flexible content is more valuable than ever.”

Multiple formats have another benefit: the content can easily be updated. “Cryptoqueen” director Johan von Mirbach is already planning to film more episodes as more information on the case comes to light.

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