International Appeal to Support Ukrainian Film Festival Met With Muted Response

Odessa Film Festival 5th edition poster

The Odessa film festival reports little practical help so far, although one international feature shot in Kiev will do post-production in Ukraine.

An appeal by international film festival chiefs to support Ukrainian colleagues has so far met with a muted response.

More than 120 festival programmers and executives -- including those from Berlin, Cannes, Edinburgh, Moscow, New York, San Sebastian, Toronto, Tribeca and Venice Film Festivals -- signed a petition last month calling for festival screening fees to be reduced or waived and offering help to Ukrainian filmmakers in what is likely to be "the toughest year in their careers."

The country is broke after massive theft and fraud by its former president, Viktor Yanukovych, was revealed. Yanukovych fled the country Feb. 22 after being toppled by a winter revolution that ended with the deaths of as many as 100 people. He is believed to have stolen as much as $70 billion from public coffers during his term as president.

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Stringent austerity measures, including the scrapping of all public subsidies for film and the arts, have been introduced as the country prepares for new elections May 25. Last week, the International Monetary Fund announced $18 billion in loans tied to painful fiscal restructuring.

The film industry's call for help -- that began with the signatures of half a dozen European festival chiefs mid-March before rapidly snowballing into a worldwide petition -- has had little practical impact, said Julia Sinkeyvich, director of the Odessa International Film Festival. The fifth edition of the event is due to open in the Black Sea port city July 11.

She said that although the festival was "impressed with the number of signatures" on the petition, in practical terms "festivals can't provide films for free as they don't own the rights."

Sales companies had not given Odessa any films for free either; at best they had offered a "small discount," she added.

Local sponsors had come to the aid of the festival. Ukrainian construction firm UDP was "convinced to support Ukrainian filmmakers [in] very tough times," she said and had increased the cash award for best project pitched at the festival and best actor.

One production company that is putting business the way of Ukrainian filmmakers is Devil's Harvest Production, a company established to make a British/Canadian/Ukrainian feature of the same name and wrapped principle photography in Kiev late January.

German-born director George Mendeluk, who has Ukrainian roots, and a team that includes the film's financier and executive producer Ian Ihnatowycz, head of Canadian private investment company First Generation Capital, will do visual effects post-production in Kiev.

Ukrainian visual effects supervisor Alex Prihodko will work on The Devil's Harvest, a story of "love, honor, rebellion and survival, set in Ukraine amidst the horror of the Holodomor."

The Holodomor is the Ukrainian name for the Soviet-engineered famine in Ukraine in 1932-33, when during a period of forced collectivization of agriculture, as many as 7.5 million people starved to death as crops were confiscated by communist authorities.