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FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE; STUDIO CITY COMPANY TO RELEASE STOCKPILE OF ANIMATED MOVIES.

Byline: Dave McNary Daily News Staff Writer

After a decade of battles with video pirates and foreign bureaucrats, a six-employee Studio City company called Films By Jove is on the verge of becoming a Hollywood player.

Films By Jove has deals in place with entertainment giants Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. to start releasing anthologies from its massive collection of more than 1,000 Russian animated films, made when the Soviet Union was still a union.

``I've always felt that these films were like an island in the Soviet Union that had little to do with ideology,'' said Jove co-owner Oleg Vidov, who People magazine described as ``the Russian Robert Redford'' when he defected to the United States in 1985. ``A lot of the live-action films were propaganda, but animation was like the Russian Disneyland.

``I loved the animation when I was a kid; now I'm trying to get them shown to children all over the world.''

The boutique operation has compiled three home-video collections, with several titles already released through Live Entertainment, and recently announced it has established a foreign-sales operation. Vidov and his wife, Joan Borsten, invested more than $500,000 to obtain the rights to cartoons created at Moscow-based Soyuzmultifilm between the 1950s and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Soyuzmultifilm, one of the half-dozen largest Soviet studios, sometimes allowed producers to take decades to complete their work. ``From what I've seen, Russian animators were always pushing the artistic envelope,'' said John O'Donnell, who heads Japanese animation specialist Central Park Media. ``By comparison, what we handle is very commercial - boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy has to defeat robots to get girl back.''

Vidov's idea to distribute the films began to take form in the months after he defected. ``He spent a year watching television in order to learn English and the only animation he ever saw was from Disney and Warner,'' Borsten recalled. ``No one listened to him.''

Jove, which was formed in 1987, faced a half-dozen major tasks:

It had to negotiate the purchase of the Soyuzmultifilm library. ``We began to negotiate by fax, which was rough because they would turn off the machine at 5 p.m. their time,'' Borsten said. ``We also has to convince them that we would not tear the films apart, that we were trying to preserve their cultural integrity.''

It had to restore many of the films, since they had been left in disarray by former distributor Sovexport, and re-create effects and music tracks. ``We made them a little faster paced and inserted things like the sounds of doors opening,'' Borsten said.

It had to use the French and Russian court systems to establish itself as the owner of the films' copyrights and then formally notify pirates that it would be enforcing those rights.

It needed to re-dub the films into several languages. Vidov enlisted dancer-actor Mikhail Baryshnikov to co-produce one of the anthologies in 1995, which led to a variety of well-known actors coming on board to provide voices, including Jessica Lange, Shirley MacLaine, Gregory Hines, Julio Iglesias, Bill Murray and Catherine Deneuve.

It had to tell individual distributors, some of them delicatessens in Russian immigrant neighborhoods, to stop selling and renting pirated copies of Russian animation and to pay for violating the copyrights. Jove then made the pirates part of its own distribution system. ``Instead of having to invent the wheel and set up a system on our own, we now have people that know how to distribute this product,'' Borsten said.

It had to sign up major U.S. video and TV distributors despite the films having no set length and no recurring characters.

Jove's sale of its first anthology, ``Animated Classic Showcase,'' was co-produced with North Hollywood-based animator Film Roman, then sold to ABC domestically. The collection languished during Disney's purchase of Capital Cities/ABC but is set for release at a yet-to-be-announced date later this year, according to Borsten.

Since Disney is the king of home video and specializes in the children's market, the collection is likely to receive a massive push.

Live Entertainment owns the domestic rights to the second anthology, Baryshnikov's ``Stories From My Childhood,'' and shares overseas rights with Warner, which has already launched a foreign campaign featuring contests to win tickets to Baryshnikov performances.

Observers say Jove, which has seen its films win honors at the Cannes Film Festival, has a viable product at a time when consumers are increasing their purchases of home videos at a rate of 14 percent annually.

``Russian animation is a genre in which you need to target and calibrate your marketing so that you're selling in 10,000s of units, rather than millions,'' said Tom Adams, head of Adams Media Research. ``It's certainly something that can sell, particularly given the success of Japanese animation.''

O'Donnell agreed, saying, ``Foreign animation is a small but growing industry. For us, it's very complicated, since there are literally hundreds of Japanese animation studios.''

Vidov, who starred in three dozen films before defecting, notes that the Russian animation is popular among parents for their wholesome content. ``In the Soviet Union, sex and violence in films was forbidden, so that's lucky for us,'' he said. ``We have over 1,000 films that are not violent.''

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

Photo: (1--Color) Films by Jove of Studio City will be releasing Russian animated movies, made before the Soviet Union's breakup.

(2--Color) Spouses Joan Borsten and Oleg Vidov own rights to the Soyuzmultifilm library.

Mendoza/Daily News
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:BUSINESS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 31, 1997
Words:917
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