Julia Matiash, the director of Sovtelexport, which sells programming from Russia Television and Radio, talks to TV Drama about the eight-part series Demon of the Revolution, among others.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, a pair of events that dismantled the Tsarist autocracy and led to the rise of the Soviet Union. The dramatic story of two major figures who made the Great October possible—Vladimir Lenin and Alexander Parvus—plays out in the eight-part series Demon of the Revolution.
“The anniversary is a good reason to refresh the memories of the events and people that changed the world, who changed it drastically and globally,” says Julia Matiash, the director of Sovtelexport, which sells programming from Russia Television and Radio. “A lot of countries in Europe were involved in preparing, supporting and financing the Russian Revolution. Even more countries all around the world were impacted by these events and these people.”
Matiash explains that there are many important questions surrounding the people who made the Revolution happen—like who were they, what were their motives and reasons for action, who did they love and who loved them, what did they believe and who did they trust? The series helps to shed light on the answers to these queries.
“It’s a story of strong characters in outstanding, very dramatic circumstances,” Matiash says. “It also entertains your curiosity. For me, as a Soviet person, it breaks some fundamental stereotypes and provides some unexpected knowledge. For example, I thought I knew by heart that Lenin and revolution were almost the same words. But the figure of Parvus appeared and it was a shock for me. I really didn’t know the underneath of the revolution, how it happened or the real people. Nobody asked those questions. Here, the creators maybe just asked the question: did it really happen the way that most people think it did? They uncover some unexpected and shocking turns to the story.”
The series comes from Non-Stop Production, which is a longtime partner of Russia Television and Radio. Non-Stop is also the team behind Demons, a psychological thriller based on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel. The drama has been a best seller from Sovtelexport’s catalog, according to Matiash. This track record is also one of the reasons that Russia Television and Radio believes that the final quality of Demon of the Revolution will be very high. Non-Stop Production does a Russian version of House M.D. as well.
Sovtelexport also has two documentaries that provide further details about the Revolution and serve as companion programming for the drama series. Lenin recounts the influence of the Russian communist revolutionary, while The Revolution investigates the events that led to the October 1917 affair. Matiash says that both docs are helpful to get viewers into the atmosphere of the time and make them more familiar with the events and personalities so that they can “understand the context and global influence.”
Alongside Demon of the Revolution, Russia Television and Radio has a wealth of other historical dramas based on classic Russian literature, events and personalities. This includes Sophia, about the last Byzantium princess; Ekaterina, about the private life of the great Russian Empress Ekaterina II; Life and Fate, based on the novel by Vasily Grossman; and Peter the Great: Testament, adapted from Daniil Granin’s Evenings with Peter the Great.
“Russian literature has given us some of the greatest and most dramatic world-famous stories,” says Matiash. “These humanistic stories are very appealing all around the world. The recent success of the BBC’s War & Peace can support my words.”
As for the historical figures and events, Matiash points to the scale of their consequences as a reason they make for such compelling stories for broadcasters all over the world. “If a person is great for India or Russia or China but the consequences of what they did, or the events that happened, are local, then it’s a good local story. But if they are really global, like World War II or the Russian Revolution, then they are global stories. Why not be curious about global events and global people?”
She adds that it’s especially true during hard times or uncomfortable times—like the ones we are currently living in—that people look to history to help make sense of what’s happening today. “Maybe if you read Anna Karenina, it will be easier for you to understand the problems in your own family life!”
And, actually, Sovtelexport also has an eight-part series based on Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel that it has been promoting in the international marketplace. Since launching presales at MIPTV, the series Anna Karenina has seen deals in more than ten territories outside of Russia and CIS. The company has also been rolling out the second season of Ekaterina. Matiash says that anticipation is high in many markets that aired the first season, and Sovtelexport is also eyeing new markets, including Pakistan, Africa, Mongolia, Vietnam, Middle Eastern countries and more Latin American territories.
Each of these lavish period dramas brings to the screen the essence of a certain time in history, events that shook and shaped the world or the people who were integral to them. These are not only Russian stories; they are global tales set against the backdrop of Russia that have resonance all over the world—and Sovtelexport and Russia Television and Radio are committed to making sure that viewers in every country can experience them.