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Filmmaker Ella Manzheeva finds her voice in Cannes with vocal performance

With cinema roaring back to life on this year’s Croisette, Cannes’ Cinéfondation opened its doors for their selection of promising talent in their L’Atelier program. In dozens of meetings with leading world sales agents and A-list festival programmers, filmmaker Ella Manzheeva found her voice - not only as a screenwriter/director.


During a special event in Cannes, she even performed several songs inspired by her narrative feature WHITE ROAD!, a modern myth about a young rapper looking for his ancient roots on the endless steppe so he can move forward in life.

Manzheeva is from Kalmykia, a republic in Southern Russia. Its people are related to nearby Mongolians—their spirits guided by Tibetan Buddhism. The creative process of writing WHITE ROAD! inspired her to write a melody - long lost - for the ancient epic Gelser - whose century-old lyrics were almost lost too. Typically this epic would not be sung by a woman, but Manzheeva, a trained violinist, literally felt the melody rising up from her as she dug up her country’s traditions. 


“I never thought that I would sing”, she comments on her first performance ever as a singer during the Cannes film festival. “The melody conveys the atmosphere of the film even without any words, and it was a special moment for me, as at this performance I was able to say more than could be expressed in just words.”


WHITE ROAD! Is a road movie inside my own subconscious, a modern epic about the memory of our ancestors. We live in a time of peace; there are no warriors. The main enemy is our ego. Today’s warriors are entrepreneurs, artists, scientists or creators. Lead character Aldar is a successful Moscow-based rapper who returns to Kalmykia to find his mother. He is played by a real rapper, Everthe8 (Timur Bubeev), whom I found while composing the songs. In a way I sing to him about relying on the strength of our land.”


Sales agents, festival programmers and press gathered at Manzheeva’s performance off the Croisette. “The unusual format of the musical presentation allowed us to immerse the international decision-makers in our audience  with whom we had been meeting all week - in the atmosphere of the film,” says producer Victoria Lupik (Anniko Films). “Their response was incredibly emotional and positive. Our project has gone through both the Berlinale Residency and Cinefondation’s L’Atelier, which is a first-time for any project. We are now in the final stage as we’re heading into production next month.”


Shooting this September in Kalmykia, Mongolia and Moscow, WHITE ROAD! is produced by Telesto Film’s Elena Glikman (THE GULLS) and Anniko Films’ Victoria Lupik with support from ROSKINO and the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. International coproducers include Ariunaa Tserenpil "Guru Media" (Mongolia), Valentin LeBlanc "Black Boat Pictures" (France), Valentin LeBlanc and Dolphin Dewes "White Boat Pictures" (Belgium).  


Fellow producer Elena Glikman (Telesto) reports that “During the Cinefondation L'Atelier, we held over fifty meetings with sales agents, festival programmers and distributors. In addition to the L'Atelier, we also spoke about WHITE ROAD! in the Russian pavilion thanks to our participation in Roskino panel discussions and round-table talks. The interest in the project is very high, as leading decision-makers and festival programmers have the film on their radar even before we go into production. We feel that at such an early stage we opened the door wide open for international sales."



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