Films funding: who gets what and why?

Recently, the results of the pitching vote of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation (UCF) experts were announced. This is an important event in the first place because for a long time there were no grant competitions ‒ neither in the State Cinema Committee nor in the Ministry of Culture. At the same time, our culture, including cinema, is fully subsidized. Therefore, when the UCF announced the start of competitions at the beginning of the year, it caused a considerable stir among artists.

It is worth reminding that the UCF is a state institution established in 2017 on the basis of the relevant Law of Ukraine “in order to promote the development of national culture and art in the state… to support cultural diversity and integration of the Ukrainian culture into the world cultural space”. The activities of the Fund are directed and coordinated by the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine.

Grants were distributed in six programs. Of course, as a film critic, I am interested in the competition that was euphemistically named “Strengthening the Power of the Ukrainian Audiovisual Sector”.

The Foundation has allocated 400 million UAH to a cinema. There are lots for pre-production (preparatory period) and for writing the script, also for the actual shooting, but then immediately there is a problem: according to the terms of the grant, it is necessary to report on the implementation, that is, to demonstrate the finished product, in the autumn. The question of how to shoot a full-length film in less than six months remains open. The evaluation took place in three stages: first, creative (“content”) experts gave their scores, then – financial ones, and last, “communication” experts. If content or financial expert gave a low mark, the project did not pass further.

Of course, it is only one competition, but it still shows certain patterns in what is happening in our film environment – a thousand applications is a lot.

For example, the historical theme has clearly lost its competitive potential. The winners are interested in modern Ukraine. Probably one of the reasons is stable box office failures of costumed dramas and the unpopularity of such products among critics. However, certain names, remain important and curiosities happen: writing a literary script and actors casting for the historical film “I Am Bandera” (they ask for 605 260 UAH, passed) and the development of the project “How I Killed Bandera” (2 million UAH, did not pass) appear in one list. Such a parallelism is not uncommon: in particular, the eight-part series “Klondike” (shooting) and the feature film “Klondike” (script development) are about the illegal extraction of amber in Polissia, but if the former did not even pass the creative expert, the latter’s promising scenario plan provided for a good assessment in “creativity”, but the financial score pulled the project to the bottom: harsh accountants consider not so much the beauty of the plot as the state money and the credibility of the relevant documents. Similarly, the ideas of young talents with notable festival reputation were left behind: Kateryna Hornostai, Antonio Lukić (his debut will participate in the prestigious film forum in Karlovy Vary), Nikon Romanchenko. Some decisions are hard to understand. Yes, the content stage wasn’t passed by the post-production of “Dedicated” – an ambitious adaptation of the novel “Felix Austria” by Sofia Andrukhovych and the preparation of “Pamfir” – the future full-length debut of Dmytro Sukholytkyi–Sobchuk, the participant, pardon me, of Cinéfondation residence of the Cannes Film Festival. On the other hand, they will give 9.5 million UAH for shooting and post-production of the additional scenes of “Foxter and Max” – another Anatolii Mateshko’s attempt to overtake Hollywood. In this case, we are left to nod at the subjectivity of any judgments, because we are people, after all.

It has long been noticed that the shortest way to the success of the film is the participation of pop stars. Therefore, the chance for funding was received by the final post-production of the documentary about Dakh Daughters “Roses: Film-Cabaret” (1 044 025 UAH), project “DakhaBrakha. The Way” (4 million UAH), the shooting of the film-concert about Serhii Zhadan “Punctuation live” (3.4 million), “HDV – Twenty Years in Adequate” (the biography of the talented rock hooligans “Hammerman Destroys Viruses”, 336 913 UAH). The same idea apparently lies the basis of “Our Breasts Are Our Weapon: the History of Femen” by the Traffic Films studio (1 058 711 UAH) – perhaps, the whole Europe already knows about naked activists, whose movement began in Kyiv. The script is written by the famous playwright Nataliia Blok, and an American of Belarusian origin Darya Zhuk will be the director, whose debut “Crystal Swan” made some noise last year.

Predictably, the favorites are already famous directors or studios. “Inside the movie “Tribe” – documentary research by Oleh Chornyi (known for his movie investigation “Hollywood on the Dnipro”) about making of the masterpiece by Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi will receive the necessary funding (4.5 million UAH). By the way, “Tribe” was already viewed 23 million times on the website youtube.com. The winner of numerous festivals, a skeptical artist from Kherson oblast Roman Bondarchuk will receive 402 761 UAH for the development of the script for the movie “Editorial” – a tragicomic story about the fate of multi-circulation provincial newspapers. Maryna Stepanska, who got into the main competition of Karlovy Vary in 2017 with her pessimistic drama “Falling”, will get 858 142 UAH for developing the script and the visual concept of the dramatic thriller “Vera” about an expert of extreme negotiations.

The first place in its nomination was unconditionally taken by the application for the preparation of “Babi Yar” – a new film by Serhii Loznytsia (over 2 million UAH); the title speaks for itself. The author of “Cyborgs” Akhtem Seitablayev will actually receive funds for two films at once. Writing a script and shooting a teaser of the adventurous comedy “Ukraine. Quest” will cost the state about 2 million UAH, a similar job for “Raid” – almost the same amount. Regarding the latter project – it is, despite the intentions of the director to leave the military theme after “Cyborgs”, a story about the legendary raid of the 95th airmobile brigade into the rear of the separatists, which entered the textbooks on military tactics. The script is being written by the famous Ukrainian playwright Natalia Vorozhbit; it was her dialogues and characters that provided a significant part of success for “Cyborgs”.

By the way, Ms. Vorozhbit applied for the directorial debut “Bad Roads” with a script based on her own novels about war and the complexity of relationships, but the vigilant financial control did not let the project proceed.

The war clearly became a cross-cutting motive on the 6th year of Russia’s aggression. In addition to the aforementioned applications, it is worth mentioning the series “Volunteer” (8 pieces) with a total cost of 15 million UAH and the finalization of the new film of the coming movie patriarch Volodymyr Tykhyi “Cat with Glowing Eyes” (“Our Cats”, 12.715 million). It will be a comedy about… war – yes, about the ATO/JFO, about quite peaceful city inhabitants – a physical training teacher, a flower vendor, an IT guy and the like. No one has yet dared to shoot a comedy about these events, so we can only wish Volodymyr good luck. At the same time, his colleague from the group “Babylon 13” Ihor Ivanko will try to create a chamber documentary “Fragile Memory” with 3 million UAH budget about an old operator who tries to remember his life and finds once hidden films in his attic at this time.

As I’ve said, there are a lot of projects. But in general, they don’t deviate from the trends. So, if you are talented, but too young and not supported by a well-known producer or company – you will not get the money, but it has always been so. Shooting about the wars of the past is, fortunately, less and less trendy – the filmmakers finally realize that the war that is going on now is more important. We still don’t have a system of movie stars, so bringing a stage celebrity to the screen is the right way. We will not enjoy good science fiction and horror films in the nearest time. The principles of pitching evaluation remains a mystery covered with the haze of subjective judgments.

And finally, most importantly, without any irony: Ukrainian cinema will live.

Congratulations to all of us.

Dmytro Desyateryk, “Day” – especially for Opinionua.com

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