State Cash, Co-Productions Boost Ukrainian Film Output

But training and exhibition shortages remain key issues, say industry insiders.

ODESSA, Ukraine -- With increased government support and stepped-up co-production activity, the Ukrainian film industry is getting back on track after a 20-year lull.

Two years ago, a new film law dramatically raised the amount of state funding for the industry from about $650,000 a year to $17.5 million. Thanks to the funding boom, 10 features will be completed in 2013 with state support, while another 10 are in production.

Kateryna Kopylova, head of the Ukrainian State Film Agency, tells The Hollywood Reporter that the amount of funding provided by the government depends upon the local film industry’s output and could even be increased, if necessary.

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“When there is a larger number of high-quality, interesting movies, we will be able to raise the amount of state financing for the industry,” she explains. “At this point, the amount of funding is sufficient.”

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Ukraine’s film sector went into a tailspin for nearly 20 years. Now the task is to step up local output, says Kopylova, while at the same time regaining viewers’ confidence in national movies.

According to Kopylova, the challenge is producing Ukrainian films that are both high quality and have a local sensibility, local characters, local music, and the like. “People need to come see Ukrainian films because they are Ukrainian, not because they are forced to,” she says. “People want to see spectacular, contemporary movies.”

One example of a successful Ukrainian movie was 2011’s mystical drama ToyKhtoProyshovKrizVohon (Firecrosser) by Mykhailo Illienko, which set a box office record for a Ukrainian film, grossing two million hryvnas ($250,000).

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But to make more films of that kind, local industry professionals say several challenges have to be addressed -- primarily, training for filmmakers and expanded film exhibition infrastructure.

“It’s very important to create alternative education platforms for aspiring filmmakers, such as master classes at film festivals, courses and exchange programs with foreign film schools,” Kopylova says, adding that the existing 400 screens in the Ukraine are insufficient -- plus, roughly half the theaters have yet to undergo a digital changeover.

Meanwhile, in an ecosystem where local distribution alone often isn't sufficient for a film to break even, co-production could be a vital solution for Ukrainian producers.

“Under the law, a film can only receive 50 percent of financing from the government, unless it is a debut, a children’s film or an animated film," local producer Olga Zhurzhenko explains. "And finding reliable investors for the other half of the budget [at home] is basically unrealistic. So, co-production is the most promising future direction for Ukrainian producers.”