Ukraine Biz Shows Range in Cannes

Ukrainian industry players gathered in Cannes are determined to show they can provide a variety of new content, as well as stories that look beyond the current Russian invasion.

“I have been repeating this since 2014 — it’s a trap to be only associated with war,” says producer Julia Sinkevych, now behind Marysia Nikitiuk’s upcoming feature “Lucky Girl.”

Presented at the Cannes Market as part of the Ukrainian Features Preview, it shows a successful TV star who has everything, until she is diagnosed with cancer.

As noted by Ukrainian Institute’s Natalie Movshovych, several projects focus on the 1990s, including “When We Were 15” — awarded at Meeting Point Vilnius in April — “Do You Love Me?” by Tonia Noyabriova, Philip Sotnychenko’s “Lapalissade” and “Rock. Paper. Grenade” by Iryna Tsilyk, also behind festival favorite “The Earth Is Blue as an Orange.”

“We have to show as much range as we can now. In Ukraine, you could never have something like the Romanian New Wave — everyone’s style is completely different. That’s what we can offer our collaborators,” adds Movshovych.

Some, including Oleg Sentsov, don’t want to talk about the invasion, says his longtime producer, Denis Ivanov, calling his latest project “Kai” a “mixture of ‘Marriage Story’ by Noah Baumbach and a disaster film.” Sentsov was arrested and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment by a Russian court. Released in 2019, he is now serving as a reservist volunteer.

“Ukraine is bigger than war,” says Ivanov. Pointing out that while most filmmakers are focusing on securing rushes and completing their projects, it’s still unclear how to deal with the ones that need to be filmed.

“If we are talking about projects that were hoping to secure financing this year, like ‘Kai,’ we don’t know how we will manage to shoot it without the support of the Ukrainian State Film Agency. That’s what we want to discuss with our partners in Cannes.”

Ivanov is also hoping to generate interest for Natalya Vorozhbit’s new feature “Demons,” shot in Myrhorod, which was bombed in April before filming could be completed. Vorozhbit’s previous film, “Bad Roads,” was Ukraine’s Oscar submission in 2021.

“When we will win, which will happen for sure, we are going to face huge economic turmoil. There will be no money for filmmaking, no money for culture, so we need to continue talking to funds and creating different initiatives,” says Movshovych.

“We have been through so much over these past few years. We definitely know how to make films in times of crisis.”

While some consider shooting abroad, the Ministry of Culture, the Ukrainian State Film Agency and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are working on a procedure that would allow male filmmakers to cross the border in order to work, says Natalia Libet from Digital Religion. Currently, men ages 18 to 60 are prohibited from leaving the country unless granted special permission.

“Our male editor has to cross the border as well. The director is in Portugal and they need to be in the same room to finish ‘When We Were 15,’ ” she says.

“The European film industry has learnt a lot while working with Syrian filmmakers, for example, so there is this structure in place. But producers are business-minded people, even though they have hearts. The most important thing is to guarantee the film will be completed.”

Although Ukrainian filmmakers are grateful for the various initiatives organized at the Cannes Market, including the Ukraine in Focus event taking place on May 21-22, Cannes’ decision to feature Kirill Serebrennikov’s “Tchaikovsky’s Wife” is still hotly debated.

“When we called for the boycott of Russian films, it was obvious not everyone was going to agree. But it’s not just our culture that’s threatened by Russian arms and Russian propaganda. The whole Europe is,” says Maksym Nakonechnyi, director of “Butterfly Vision,” about a prisoner of war struggling to resume her life in Ukraine, making a bow in Un Certain Regard this year.

Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk’s “Pamfir” will premiere in Directors’ Fortnight, with Sergei Loznitsa’s “Natural History of Destruction” also set to be shown. Loznitsa was expelled by the Ukrainian Film Academy in March, following his refusal to boycott Russian cinema.

“We don’t want to ‘cancel Russia,’ but they keep covering their crimes with culture. Having a red carpet event for a film financed by an oligarch during the war [Roman Abramovich and his fund Kinoprime] is unethical,” adds Ivanov.

Taking a note from Valentyn Vasyanovych’s 2019 dystopian fable “Atlantis,” filmmakers are also escaping into the future. In “Chrysanthemum Day,” Simon Mozgovyi will show the world after the nuclear explosion, while Libet’s next project “Dawn Chorus,” will tackle the concept of World War III.

“When I first started to produce, I decided I wasn’t going to make films about war. Maybe about what happens later, like in ‘Parthenon,’ ” she says. Its director, Mantas Kvedaravičius, was killed in Mariupol on April 2.

“In ‘Dawn Chorus,’ the war has been going on for 70 years and no place has been spared. But when I was talking to the screenwriters, I only asked for one thing. I wanted some hope at the end.”

“I was actually joking about it with Vasyanovych, who said the war will end in 2025 in that film. ‘Motherfucker, couldn’t it be 2023 instead?!’,” “Rock. Paper. Grenade” producer Vladimir Yatsenko tells Variety on his brief return from the army and frontline service.

Yatsenko is also producing the highly anticipated “From Ukraine to Luxembourg” by Antonio Lukich, known for “My Thoughts Are Silent,” with the premiere set for the fall. As well as “U Are the Universe” by Pavlo Ostrikov about a Ukrainian space garbage man delivering nuclear waste to a small hole near Jupiter.

“It’s ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ in space, a bittersweet love story. Our ‘Ukrainian task’ was to shoot ‘Interstellar’ with 1% of its budget,” he laughs.

“We understand that we won’t have an industry during these next two years and that many people will die. It’s complicated, we are traumatized, but our biggest challenge is to create beautiful European films in any genre. We don’t want to be victims, that’s the thing. It’s not what we deserve.”



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