Why Ukraine-Born Producer Alexander Rodnyansky, Who Was Forced To Flee Russia, Feels More Compelled Than Ever To Bring Stories “Rooted In Truth” To The Screen — Cannes

Ever since he was forced to flee his Moscow home in 2022 after rousing suspicion within Russia’s government for speaking out about his opposition to the war in Ukraine, Kyiv-born producer Alexander Rodnyansky feels more compelled than ever to help bring to screen stories that are “rooted in truth.”

Now living in between Los Angeles, Italy and Ukraine, the Oscar-nominated producer has been concentrating his efforts on “building a hub” of European and international talent and uniting them with Hollywood through his banner AR Content.

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“European cinema, particularly Eastern European cinema, has always been my area of expertise and I have worked with most of the important directors of the region, so this seemed like a growth opportunity for the company,” says Rodnyansky, who was forced to shutter his other company, Non-Stop Productions when he left Russia. “I don’t pretend to be a Hollywood producer, but I have experience as a European producer from living in different countries, so I want to try to accommodate a more universal industry.”

The Loveless and Leviathan producer has spent the last two years working to set up projects that would reflect this strategy and has announced a slate of directors and projects from various European regions. A good example of this convergence is exemplified in upcoming Amy Adams starrer At The Sea, from Hungarian filmmaker Kornel Mundruczó, which is set to begin shooting in June. There’s also Laszlo Nemes’ Orphan, which Mubi acquired for multiple territories, that follows a young Jewish boy raised by his mother whose world turns upside when a stranger turns up on his doorstep claiming to be the father he thought had died in the Nazi concentration camps.

Coming into Cannes this year, AR Content is producing Occupation, from Ukrainian writer-director Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi, which Goodfellas is shopping to international buyers with Anonymous Content and CAA Media Finance co-repping domestic rights. The project, which is based on Peter Pomerantsev’s May 2022 article for The Atlantic entitled “We Can Only Be Enemies” is produced by Rodnyansky alongside Nick Shumaker for Anonymous Content. It’s the story of a Ukrainian family whose house is shelled at the onset of the war. Unable to reach Kyiv, they return to their village, taking refuge in a bomb shelter, where they have no choice but to cohabitate with the Russian soldier responsible for the bombardment.

“It’s an extremely important story because it’s not about the black and white picture,” he says. “It’s about ordinary people who happen to be in the most extreme circumstances ever imaginable.”

Kantemir Balagov
Kantemir Balagov

Rodnyansky has also reunited with Beanpole helmer Kantemir Balagov for Butterfly Jam, which he is producing with French banner Why Not Productions. It’s Balagov’s English-language debut and is set in a tight-knit U.S. community of Circassian immigrants portraying a complicated relationship between a father and son, in which the son imbues his father with qualities he doesn’t actually possess. Like Rodnyansky, Balagov expressed dissenting views on the war and has since fled for exile in California.

During Cannes this year, AR Content announced it was boarding Israeli director Dani Rosenberg’s next film Of Dogs and Men, which it will produce with Ital Tamir. The story follows 16-year-old Dar, who returns to her kibbutz to look for her dog who was lost during the terror attack of October 7. Though fictional, the film stars non-actors and was shot on-location with a small crew who lived in or were present in the region at the time.

“It’s a hybrid genre that is setup in exactly the same places where the massacre happened,” says Rodnyansky of the film. “But this is not the call for retribution – it has an extremely anti-war statement with a huge deal of pain and empathy towards all victims on both sides, innocent people who happened to be victims of this bloody war.”

Rodnyansky comes from a family of documentary filmmakers and first began his career in that space, and now it’s apparent that his growing slate is coming full circle as he leans into projects that are based on true stories.

“I feel encouraged and free to do the movies I want to do because in Russia, speaking frankly, the situation was worsening across the last few years all of the time,” he says. “There were certain limits, and you felt a certain pressure on your shoulders, and we were fighting all the time – not just as normal filmmakers around the world trying to make movies – but fighting against a certain political pressure. But everything we are doing right now is more or less reflecting on real stories.”

AR Content is also pushing ahead with Joel Kinnaman starrer Debriefing the President, which sees Kinnaman star as former CIA analyst John Nixon who wrote the non-fiction book of the same name about his experience of being the first American to identify and interrogate Saddam Hussein following his 2013 capture.

“We never expected this project, unfortunately, to be as relevant as it is today,” he says. “It’s important that we deliver empathy and truth to the world but it’s so difficult especially with what is going on in the world right now.”

He continues to work with Russian filmmakers and talent – like Balagov – and is “proud to do so.” “Just because they are Russians doesn’t mean they support the Russian political regime,” he says, noting that those who do support the current regime “would never work with me” for fear of being associated with him. During last year’s Cannes Film Festival, a Russian court issued a warrant for Rodnyansky’s arrest for “spreading false information about the war.”

But these threats haven’t deterred him. “I believe it’s so important to make viewers experience the light of the ordinary people in Ukraine, in Russia, in Israel or in countries where you have such divisive political processes going on. I have never felt my occupation and function to be more important than it is today.”

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