Odessa Film Fest Continues to Grow

Just three years old, the Ukrainian film event expects to attract more than 100,000 moviegoers this year.

ODESSA, UKRAINE – Launched three years ago, the Odessa International Film Festival (OIFF) quickly has established itself as the Ukrainian film industry’s main event and one of the biggest festivals in Eastern Europe.

“In terms of the number of viewers, we are already the biggest festival in the Russian-speaking post-Soviet world,” Viktoria Tigipko, the festival’s president, told The Hollywood Reporter, adding that 100,000 viewers attended the festival last year -- a tally this year's fest is expected to easily surpass. 

By comparison, the viewership of this year’s edition of the Moscow International Film Festival was 72,000.

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OIFF grew out of a series of art house film programs in various Ukrainian cities. “That experience prompted us to the idea of running something bigger and probably for wider audiences,” Tigipko said.

According to Tigipko, there were never any doubts about Odessa as the host city for the fest. “A range of renowned film industry people come from here, including the original founders of Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox,” she said, adding that the festival’s first edition was pulled together in just three months.

“Had we known in advance, we would have done some things differently,” Tigipko said. “We would have thought out the festival’s concept more thoroughly.”

She explained that originally the festival had a heavy focus on humor, trying to some extent to connect to the short-lived, late Soviet-era comedy festival Golden Duke, held in the city. But that concept imposed too many limitations, and the focus gradually shifted to art house cinema palatable to a mainstream audience.

“We try to find our niche in art mainstream,” said Denis Ivanov, OIFF’s general director. “We try to select films that have art value and, at the same time, could work for general audiences.”

The festival's growth has posed infrastructural challenges. “Next year, we’ll have to add new venues,” Tigipko said. “We’ll be looking for a couple more cinemas.”

The expansion inevitably will require increasing the festival’s €3 million budget ($3.9 million), of which about 85 percent comes from the private sector and the remainder from local and national authorities.

At this point, OIFF doesn’t aim to become an A-category film festival, Tigipko said, adding that the fest’s current status gives it a much wider choice of films that already have had world premieres.

“Currently, we can only compete [with other festivals] in terms of the number of viewers,” added Ivanov.

According to the festival’s organizers, OIFF also has given a boost to the national film industry. “For the first edition’s Ukrainian program, we received a few dozen submissions, and this year, about 200 shorts and features were submitted,” Tigipko said, adding that there are plans to strengthen the industry program, adding more professional events to the festival’s next editions.

This year's OIFF runs July 12-20.