Ukrainian Movie Festival Set for Beverly Hills

AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
Ukrainian protestors in Kiev

Hollywood's first festival for Ukrainian films will showcase Soviet classics and more recent fare.

Hollywood's first-ever festival of Ukrainian films is set to open next week at the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills.

The brainchild of Los Angeles-based Ukrainian-born producer Anatoly Fradis, the "First Hollywood Festival of the Best Ukrainian Films" will showcase 20 movies, including classics shot during Soviet times and more recent releases.

The festival is designed to highlight the movie heritage of a country currently torn by conflict, where Russian-backed rebels have declared two internationally unrecognized "peoples republics" in Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea peninsula seized by Moscow. The event opens on May 8 with a red-carpet screening of Roman Balayan's 1983 film Flights in Dreams and in Reality, a film about a 40-year-old man who wakes up one day to realize he has achieved nothing in his life.

Starring Oleg Yankovsky and a brief cameo by actor-turned-director Nikita Mikhalkov — who went on to win an Oscar in 1995 for Burnt by the Sun — the film divided the then rigid Soviet society under President Leonid Brezhnev just a few years before Mikhail Gorbachev's twin policies of perestroika (rebuilding) and glasnost (openness) transformed the country, setting in motion events that would lead to its collapse.

More recent films include Myroslav Slaboshpitsky's multi-award winning The Tribe — a film featuring deaf mute actors that won the grand prize at Critics Week in Cannes in 2014 and Mykhailo Illienko's The Firecrosser, which was Ukraine's nominee for best foreign-language Oscar in 2012. The film tells the true story of a Soviet war hero who became the leader of a Native American tribe in North America.

Fradis, whose producer credits include Return of the Living Dead: Rave from the Grave — which includes footage shot in the Chernobyl nuclear exclusion zone — told The Hollywood Reporter that "we are expecting some Hollywood celebrities and we are anticipating a pretty large crowd." He added: "The interest is great — my phone rings nonstop."

He added that although unconfirmed as of yet, stars invited include Jon Voight, Mila Kunis and others.

The festival, organized by European Film Services Corporation and the Ukrainian Union of Filmmakers, runs May 8-14. A delegation of Ukrainian filmmakers, including union head Sergey Trymbach, Balayan and actress Larisa Kadochnikova, are due to attend.