Ukrainian Film Industry in Limbo

Courtesy of Festival de Cannes
"The Tribe"

With no state funding, filmmakers have limited funding options for their projects.

ODESSA, UKRAINE — With no state funding and a difficult economic and political situation exacerbated by armed clashes between Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country, Ukrainian filmmakers are looking for ways to continue making films. And their prospects aren't rosy at the moment.

Just a year ago, the situation looked positive, with Ukraine's film sector developing rapidly, pushed by reforms in the industry. But progress came to an abrupt halt earlier this year, as the government could no longer afford to fund the film industry in light of more pressing issues.

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"A contest for government funding was supposed to take place several months ago, but since the head of the the state film agency, Katerina Kopylova, was dismissed, nothing has been done, and state support for the film sector has been suspended," producer and director Dmitry Tomashpolsky told The Hollywood Reporter.

Other producers agree that without state cash, the film industry won't be able to survive. "State support is the only way of development for Ukraine's film sector," said Valentin Vasyanovich, producer of Miroslav Slaboshpitsky's Plemya (The Tribe), which premiered at Cannes in May.

Private investment may not be a viable option at this point, as the industry isn’t very attractive for those who could put money into it. "Part of reform, aimed at the exhibition system, hasn't been completed, and at this point, due to the insufficient number of screens in the country, it's just impossible to recoup investment," said producer Alyona Demyanenko, whose project My Grandma Fanny Kaplan was paused due to absence of state funding.

According to Tomashpolsky, Ukrainian filmmakers are now likely to turn to low-budget and no-budget films, many of which would tackle acute social issues.

One other area to look at for Ukrainian filmmakers is co-production. "Now is the best time for Ukrainian producers and filmmakers to start looking for funding in Europe, because the profile of the country has changed dramatically over the last year," said Maria Choustova-Baker, co-founder of the film company Atoms & Void and producer of Sergei Loznitsa's Maidan. "Now there is huge interest in Ukraine; it's on the news all the time."

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"On the other hand, the country being not politically stable, it's a risk factor," she continued. "So if we're talking about big productions, it is not easy. Ukrainian producers have to be very active in pursuing co-production opportunities."

Other producers are less optimistic. "Co-productions is a promising area, but if a producer can't come up with a local share of the budget, there is an impasse," said Vasyanovich.

According to Denis Ivanov, a producer and head of the distribution company Arthouse Traffic, more steps should be taken to make co-production work for Ukrainian filmmakers, involving the MEDIA program and Eurimages, which Ukraine is currently in the process of joining. "Also, there are not too many producers in Ukraine who are qualified for co-productions," Ivanov added.