Hurdles remain to Ukrainian film biz

Industry confab outlines obstacles

KIEV, Ukraine -- It is time for Ukraine to become a player on the international movie scene, but major challenges lie ahead, according to participants at a high-profile industry conference here.

Several hurdles face the country's ambitions in becoming a player of note, including a lack of local filmmaking, poor theaters and the absence of cross-border interaction.

Attendees at the international conference "Film Business in Ukraine," which wrapped in the Ukrainian capital during the weekend, debated difficulties during the confab.

Mark Lolo, general director of Central Partnership Sales House, the distribution division of neighboring Russia's largest film company, Central Partnership, which also operates in Ukraine, outlined problems.

"Let's face it, there is no film business in Ukraine at the moment, just some conditions to fuel its development."

Lolo compared the current situation in Ukraine's movie industry with that of Russia seven years ago, when the first homegrown movie, "Antikiller," grossed $1 million in theaters.

"Don't hope that investors would build multiplex cinemas all over the country or that audiences would become loyal towards domestic cinema overnight, hope just for yourselves," he urged his Ukrainian colleagues.

And while Russian companies are active in the Ukrainian market, Hollywood majors are not in a hurry to establish operations there.

According to Michael Schlicht, managing director of 20th Century Fox CIS, the major is distributing films in Ukraine through agents, and there is no word about producing films in Ukraine at the moment. "We have to establish full-fledged film production in Russia first," Schlicht said.

On an international level the fact that Ukraine has not yet joined an international convention on film industry cooperation is certainly a disadvantage.

But the government is working on that, according to Anna Chmil, head of Ukraine's state department of cinema. But, she added, there are other problems with state support for the national film industry.

"Currently, the state supports only six features a year," Chmil said. "As a result, Ukraine basically ceded its market to other film cultures -- Russian and American."

The situation may change, she observed, if several draft laws currently considered by the Supreme Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, are adopted, bringing the annual state support for the film industry from current levels of $10 million to about $80 million.

In 2007, boxoffice revenue increased in Ukraine by 26% to $59.8 million from the previous year, said Oksana Kondrashova, director of the Cinema Analytics research group.

A 25% increase is expected this year, giving a positive sign for potential investors in the industry, Kondrashova added.