Today, we witness the Renaissance of the Ukrainian cinema. It ranges in genres, good films win awards at world festivals, they are appreciated by the audience. More and more good Ukrainian films are screened. Opinion decided to find out what a new generation of Ukrainian directors thinks about it. Zhanna Ozirina, Roman Liuby and Lilia Ostapovych tell about their filmmaking career and their view on future of the Ukrainian cinema.
Zhanna Ozirina, a director of doc and fiction films
2010 – 2012 – worked as an executive editor of an online journal about modern culture Korydor, the Centre for Contemporary Art.
2013 – moved to the city of Lviv and was working for three years as a program coordinator of the Lviv International Short Film Festival Wiz-Art. She has worked on several projects connected with filmmaking in Lviv: Wiz-Art Film School, Lviv film events, the Lviv Film Commission.
Films: “Kittens”, “Alive and Unbroken”, “Grace”, “Connection”, “Adult”.
I like when I’m manipulated by story-tellers. I’m ready to give my attention, emotions and time to the best of them, and I want to be such a manipulator as well. It is like you have a gigantic console in front of you and you push different buttons in a certain order and makes a small detonator inside of people go off. But the point is that cinema is not just a cryptic when you only need to know the cypher to open it. There are many different things in this pot: cold calculation, creative intuition, human factor, a personal background, individual and professional traits of each team member. Peculiarities of communication and subordination, dozens of happenstances and disappointments. For me, it is a big constructor with hundreds of nails and screws, which is enlivened then with the help of a magic wand.
Being in cinema means being different at once: either easy-going or authoritarian, supple or decisive. It is a constant balancing and to a certain extent – a subtle nuance game. Nothing gets me excited more.
Formally, the first step was a script for a short film “Svetka” directed by Iryna Usteletseva in 2012. Then, in two years, I shot two own fiction films: The First Job Interview and “The meeting”. But these were also formal steps. Because what I was worried about the most while working on them was whether films will be edited rightly. It was rather my express-film school where I learned filmmaking.
My first real step was a doc “Kittens”. It was filmed by my friend with a regular Canon camera in a room with bad light and cheap lav mic. But it was for real and it was mine. Besides, it was a more shaped “personal-is-political” expression. Since that, I haven’t been embarrassed to call myself a director.
I have recently finished shooting (16-19 October) my short fiction film called “Adult”. It was supported by the Lviv Film Commission yet in May on a pitching, the team also spent their money on it, and we had also to fundraise some money. Many people joined the project giving their service for free or for the minimum of money. So, the film has many sponsors in the widest meaning of the word. I guess it is because the message of the film stung many people to the quick. It is a story about a guy called Bohdan who has turned 18 and his father gave him his old Soviet car as a present. The story is set in the garage neighbourhood where Bohdan’s groupmate comes with his friends from the college. The film message is “one’s own dignity is more important than one’s one safety”. Bohdan has to step outside of his own calm and peaceful character to protect what belongs to him.
I had a period in my life when I was interested in otherness and rebellion topics. But due to my films, I have stepped outside of my own taboos, took my skeletons out of my closet, it became uninteresting for me to live within a never-ending-rebellion-time mode. Things which seemed to me (and perhaps, to the audience) impudent became, as the time passed (fortunately), usual and not worthy of attention. But topics about sexuality, relationships, family types, partnership, emotional and physical connections excite me again.
The women issue in general also does. How girls take themselves, what influences them, how they take their bodies, what they are embarrassed about, what taboos they have even in conversations with their closest friends. I reckon that Ukrainian girls deserve, for example, their own TV show like Girls with Lena Dunham.
I’m now also interested in themes about people who seem to be introvert and tender but in fact, they are strong and have stamina. Actually, this combination of tendency and strength is kind of human and it touches me a lot.
I guess that we live during the most interesting and the toughest time for the Ukrainian cinema, we are lucky and unlucky at once. The community is being dynamically shaped, new faces appear, new academies are founded, there are many awards, unions, new films are shot they are presented at world festivals and win awards there. On the other hand, cinemas are being closed, culture expenses are being cut, labels like “patriotic films” are attached more frequently. And of course, never-ending arguments within the community on Facebook, above all. We are all in the turbulence zone, but some people seem to get some weird masochistic rush from that. I guess I am also that person.
It is great that the film community cares. My friend, who works in business and isn’t keen on cinema, jokes that it is impossible just to come to my place – I will definitely take her to some support or protest action.
I don’t know what to say about the future. It is clear that much depends on funding and an adequate budget allocation mechanism. And on our mutual proactive position as well.
I guess that I have been influenced by each film I have seen since I became watching films not as a viewer but as a director.
Besides, I was working for two years as a program coordinator of the Lviv International Short Film Festival Wiz-Art. During this time, I watched not hundreds but thousands of short films from all over the world. I was responsible for what films will accompany 400 people in a hall for two hours. This experience influenced also.
Actually, I am omnivorous-impatient: I watch everything: independent films as well as genre films, and different shows as well. But if first 30 minutes (5 -10 minutes in short films) don’t absorb my attention, I am most likely to give it up. Except for cases, when it is important for my cinema education.
One more example. I happened to spend the whole 2016 year in my hometown, Horishni Plavni. I had a big fear to fall out of the film reality (as Alice from the Wonderland says, “We must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that!”). So the whole year, I was watching films only on mubi.com (it is an online platform with independent films. Each month, you can watch up to 30 films, most frequently, very rare, veeeeeery strange, the new festival, old archive films, films that you can hardly find on torrent sites). Kind of geek film buff experience.
Cinema for me is… an opportunity to influence reality.
Roman Liuby, a director of the doc, fiction films and music videos. A film editor of most of the films in the #BABYLON’13, a film association.
Films: “Euromaidan. Rough Cut”, “Stronger Than Arms”, “#WAR_NOTE”, “Pigs”, “Doctor’s Trauma”.
As far back as I can remember I have always felt the need “to tell tall tales”. In the primary school, for example, I liked for some reason to make up and tell my classmates breath-taking game plots which I told I played. Or I told a plot of a made-up film or music video I told I saw. I guess my great-grandmother Arianda liked all my stories.
I studied at the Art Academy for Children in Kyiv. I don’t know whether it is also a tall tale, but the building of the school is said to have been originally built for a psychiatric hospital but the art academy for children happened to have been placed there. We had drama classes since the first grade. When I was in the 8th grade or earlier, my parents gave me a nice and huge GRUNDIK camera, and I was running with the predator mode on it through construction sites. I wish it had worked longer. Looking through a LEGO catalogue, I could be looking for a long time at the camera offered for making stop motion animation with figures. In high school, we had the “Dohory Dryhom” band (“Upside Down”) and I tried to make kind of music videos. Once I even used the rotoscoping technique. Later, my father started to work more as an art director with commercials and music videos. I was his assistant, of course. He is now shooting his second full-length film after the “Gates” film.
Right now, I want to make a music video for a crazy punk-rock song. It is a disaster film about mechanical wind-up monkeys. In the end, they are executed but even with burning bullet holes, they go on dancing. They are burning, melting but go on dancing. They are falling in the river, sinking but go on dancing.
More than 80 monkeys made in 1982 in the city of Mykolaiv are waiting to dance in the video. I also continue working on a film #war_note. It is being made from videotapes from, smartphones, cameras, tablets, gopros of soldiers and volunteers. I don’t know yet how to do it, I have now rather not a construction but the feeling or taste what this film should be like.
I imagine that I go through the city and find someone’s camera by chance. A regular digital camera but with a video function. And I look through the material on it to find out who is the owner. At first, I see some picnic, fun, then someone’s birthday party, and then as routinely trench lines, then a maternity hospital, and then again a mine thrower. It is like everything has mixed up. And I can’t see the author because he’s behind the camera. Kind of that taste.
I also have a film about Oleksandr Aksinin to be made. He is kind of a mysterious person, he is a graphics artist, lives in Lviv but was born in Russia. After this, I want to deconstruct his works into details and make a computer game out of them. And I want this game to create the impression that you haven’t just passed the game but got some experience. In general, I want everything I do to create such an impression.
I am also working together with Mark and Marichka Marchyk on the Balaklava Blues project. I don’t how to describe it in two words but it is a folklore-electronic project involving video. Today’s military videos, an archived video from the industrial Donbas and frames from Soviet cartoons. It is all about a mental background. It contains, for example, songs made of Ukrainian folklore songs from the Luhansk region. A piece of video filmed with the thermal camera shows a person dancing who is getting colder while dancing.
I also want to make a commercial for a taxi in a genre of horror films. And this commercial will be not for passengers but for taxi drivers.
I also want to make a one-minute post-apocalypses film about a guy who makes a complete renovation inside a birdhouse.
I also want to finally upload my film “Pigs” so everybody could watch it online.
I also want to make, let’s call it not-generative VJ for live concerts of my friend Petrazhytsky. He creates doom energetic electronic music.
I also create music by myself a little. I am going to make a music video once for myself as well.
I care about what means “to pretend” and what means to be sincere. I am also interested in whether freedom of the will exists and what is it like in general? I care about “success” and “non-success” theme and perceiving life as a competition. What a little piece of such things manages to enter our consciousness. As for plots, I guess I am keener now on some abstract topics, plotless. With the unraveling but without a certain plot.
I am not into Ukrainian film community, unfortunately. But taking into account those things which I hear, we will have good films. There are people of taste and with skills to make something within a professional community,
I can’t call myself a film fan, I rarely watch good films and lately, I have been watching only cartoons with my daughter Orysia. My life As a Courgette and Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom is awesome. It is exciting that there are two parallel layers that are equally interesting for a child and adult. And if you can keep a child’s attention, then you can wrap an adult around a finger. Now I am trying to learn how to keep my daughter’s attention. Apocalypses with wind-up monkeys are for her, in the first place. They will also bounce on a trampoline, she is likely to love it.
The Fifth Element influenced me, without a doubt. There is hardly a film which I watched as a child more times. The second place is taken by Warriors of Virtue – spooky fantasy about Kung-Fu kangaroo. I would like to film something like that once. Action-fantasy for teenagers. Then The Ninth Gate by Polanski for some reason. Dead Man by Jarmusch. Then The Language of Animals, Others and I by Feliks Sobolev, The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick though I watched it only one time. It is incredible when you feel the weight of each frame. Then Catfish, The Blair Witch Project though I stay impressed for a week after horror films so I can’t watch them. I liked End of the Fucking World and Master of None. In short, my list doesn’t contain high art.
Oh! That reminds me! The film which really influenced me – Into the Abyss by Werner Herzog.
My aim is to make films or any audio-visual art a platform for my experiments, some creative pursuit. Today, I still take everything seriously and rarely have fun. I guess if I learn to, my films will be also good.
Lilia Ostapovych an action films director
Worked as an assistant director on such projects as Pryputni, Foxter and Max. Lilia was a casting manager in the films Red, 11 Children from Morshyn and Dovbush. The script for Pointe Shoes was one of the winners in the competition “Watch Ukrainian – create your future”.
Films: A Private Lesson, Oleksa.
I have told stories since I was a child. I liked to add needed colours to achieve the effect: I was pleased when my stories made people laugh, fear or touched them. I always made up something. When I was telling something, it appeared in my head as bright pictures which I was learning at the art school to convey on paper, later, at college, I set small plays with my groupmates: I enlivened stories, made-up or true ones. Step by step, I came into the cinema which, in my opinion, the best of other kinds of art provide a full touch with a “talk partner” and contains the widest range of tools and techniques to express an idea.
As for my first steps in the profession, these are freshman works in the Kyiv Theatre University: photo-film which aims to tell a story via a limited number of photos: then first docs – we had a task to make “a sketch about an interesting event or a person” and anecdotes which our Professor Savchenko liked a lot. An anecdote was our task, we were filming them up to our graduation. Until I entered the university, I had no idea how films were made but then I had a big desire to create something great, so I was learning via the cut and try the method.
I graduated from the university, and now I am a freelancer in the film industry. I am working on the script to the film Apple-Quince And Fog. It tells a story about a successful young journalist who comes to her hometown in autumn, and her old wounds begin blooding and she wants to return her lost love… Love drama happens on the back of an authentic province where forgotten characters who surrounded the heroine in her childhood rise again, forgotten places bring a warm aroma of past days – she is determined to do what she wants even though she doesn’t know how it will end like.
I like independent films which allow you to look at a person and the world through the author’s eyes. It is kind of a key to understanding yourself; films which make you think and look for; films which enrich aesthetics in you. Actually, these films are about freedom, fairness, love. Except for psychological drama, I am also keen on military and erotic topics in the cinema.
As for Ukrainian cinema, now, we can compare it with a spring apple tree which has more and more buds with each new warm day, so there are more chances for big and tasty apples. But this tree is still very tender and isn’t frost-hardy yet. So, I hope that weather conditions will be favorable. I am happy that young authors come. They are brave and confident enough to assert themselves. They raise hot topics which make people come to cinemas. These authors found new productions, more and more people join the film industry. Today, an average Ukrainian doesn’t have a question “does the Ukrainian cinema exist?” because there are posters everywhere, regional and national film festivals take place regularly, big premiers, promo tours. So I wish all the best to the industry, keep my fingers crossed and write the script.
The list of the films which influenced me and my outlook contains Satan’s Tango by Béla Tarr, The Thin Red Line by Terrence Mallick, Breaking the Waves by Lars von Trier, Death in Venice by Luchino Visconti, Euphoria by Ivan Vyrypayev, The Ascent by Larysa Shepitko and Come and See by Elem Klimov.
Cinema for me is an author’s insight which he makes because his destination says him to do so. He shapes people, situations and environment; it is a combination of painting, music, poetry, philosophy and a big love.
Text by Valeriy Puzik