European-Ukrainian Co-Productions Threatened by Political Turmoil

1:38 AM PST 07/28/2014 by Nick Holdsworth, Vladimir Kozlov
Odessa Film Festival poster

Funding snafus trouble productions as post-revolutionary state, although producers of new wartime epic are in talks with Hollywood studio.

ODESSA, Ukraine – The future of Ukrainian co-productions with Europe is threatened by a failure of the Ukrainian  film funding body to pay out previous promised funds amid the country's political turmoil.

Producers promised funds under the old regime, which was toppled in February, say contracts are not being honored as the country struggles to contain a Kremlin-backed insurgency on its eastern border with Russia.

Austrian producer Klaus Pridnig, whose feature Ugly was promised $700,000, says he now cannot even identify who is the head of the Ukrainian state film funding agency.

"We have a contract and received assurances during shooting that the money would be paid, but nothing has come of it," he told The Hollywood Reporter.

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The drama about the relationship between two families in Austria and Ukraine has the backing of Austria's key national fund, the Austrian Film Institute, and public broadcaster ORF. It has been promised re-financing to cover the money previously promised by Ukraine, which represents nearly 40 percent of the film's budget.

Re-financing would enable the film to be completed, but could send a dangerous signal to European funders considering Ukrainian co-productions, Pridnig said.

"It's a difficult situation; if we go for re-financing, that could destroy any hope of co-productions with Ukraine in the future," Pridnig said. 

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Other projects are also struggling to get money from Ukraine's state film funding agency, Goskino, which is currently leaderless.

Egor Olesov, producer of Nezlamna (Unbroken) -- a $5 million war-time epic based around the true story of a female Red Army sniper who becomes a lifelong friend of Eleanor Roosevelt after meeting her at the White House in 1944 -- says he is owed more than a third of the money Goskino committed to fund half the budget.

Although the film is a co-production with Russia and is relying for up to a fifth of its budget on Russian state sources, there has been no problem from the Russian side, Olesov said.

The movie, which features British actress Joan Blackham as Eleanor Roosevelt, has already attracted interest from Hollywood studios, and Olesov said producers were currently in international distribution discussions with a U.S. studio.

Full international cooperation for Ukrainian filmmakers is still some way off, said Viktor Nozdryukhin-Zabolotny, head of Odessa Film Studios.

"We currently have three projects shooting, all of them are by Ukrainian producers, but some funding is coming from Russia," he said.

No Russian producers have actually canceled contracts to shoot at Odessa Film Studio amid the poltical turmoil, he said, but there is uncertainty. "Some crews might have planned to come and later changed their mind due to the overall situation, but there is no way of telling," he said.

He adds that while the studio is keen on attracting international projects that remains a long way off. What does Ukraine need? "We need tax incentives, we need a better transport and hotel infrastructure, we need more English-speaking crew members," he said. 

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