Cannes Docs: Singing in Ukraine

Cannes Docs: Singing in Ukraine

This was set to be the first Cannes outing for Ukrainian Docudays UA and promo body Ukrainian Institute. Instead, the showcase of new Ukrainian doc projects in post-production goes ahead online during Cannes Docs 2020.

Docudays UA programmer Darya Bassel, herself a doc producer, outlines the Ukraine doc offer to the international market, especially following the critical success of The Earth Is Blue as an Orange (Iryna Tsilyk), which picked up the Directing Prize for a World Cinema Documentary at Sundance 2020.

“During the past few years we have experienced a boom in filmmaking, and in documentary too, as the Ukrainian State Film Agency has started to work properly,” she comments, noting further titles such as My Father is My Mother’s Brother (Vadym Ilkov) which won the Prix du Jury Régionyon at Visions du Réel 2018, and Home Games (Alisa Kovalenko, 2018) which won awards at Minsk and Odessa. 

“What we do at Docudays is to try and help Ukrainian filmmakers to come to the international market and help them promote their films,” Bassel continues. “Because we are filmmakers ourselves, and we understand the difficulties.”

“We have been doing that for the past couple of years, bringing Ukrainian documentary films that are close to completion stage to different international markets, such as Nyon and IDFA, as well as at Docudays itself,” she adds.

She points out however that 2020 investment is down, not surprisingly. While investment for documentary in 2019 was around €1.7 million, total production investment across all genres (incorporating fiction, documentary and animation) has been cut back this year to approximately €3 million, she claims.

That said, the four documentaries in the Ukrainian showcase are at advanced stage, with mooted release dates between September 2020 and Spring 2021. “All these titles are in post-production, so for them the crisis was not a huge disaster,” Bassel confirms.

In the b/w Between Two Wars by Alina Gorlova (2nd feature) we observe the endless cycle of war and peace, in which we meet the young Kurdish Andriy. After fleeing the Syrian conflict, his family unexpectedly landed in the Ukraine. We follow him on his slow journey back to his homeland. 

“Not the first statement on the topic [of war] by the young female filmmaker, this one widens the angle and stands out as a universal work of cinematic art, strengthened by the definite and crafted audiovisual approach. Telling certain stories, it appeals to our common experience as a humankind,” says the film’s producer Maksym Nakonechnyi, whoi is looking for pre-sales and a sales agent in the film slated for a September 2020 release.

In Eva Dzhyshyashvili’s Plai. Through the Mountains we meet a couple who have gained more than they have lost under the pressure of their burdensome lives. But despite wars, political battles, rains and blizzards, they are the essence of life itself. 

Comments producer Oksana Ivanyuk of the €52,836-budget film, slated for January 2021 release: “For the past couple of months, we have been living in a surreal world which led us to reconsider what is really important. We are coming back to the most basic and vital values – health, food, family, love. Over the course of four years, Eva has been filming the family that lead their day-to-day life in accordance with those values.”

The €128,000-budget Diary of a Bride of Christ is directed by Marta Smerechynska and produced by Natalia Libet and Vitaliy Sheremetiev (Digital Religion LLC, Ukraine). When, at the age 13, Smerechynska’s sister decided to become a nun, the debutante feature doc director, outraged, tried to stop her. Six years later, she started filming in her sister’s new home –  the convent. 

Producer Libet comments: “This story, visualized through intimate moments of communication between Marta, a film director, her family and the nunnery, asks questions of why and how Marta’s sisters and other nuns—the Brides of Christ—are moved to choose their way of serving God, how they cope with that.” The producer is looking for co-production partners, distributors, TV buyers who can join the project with funding, a sales agent, festival interest and an editor-consultant.

In Florian’s Witnesses, feature doc debutant Oleksiy Radynski follows architect, artist, violin maker, musician, theorist and poet Florian Yuriev as, at the age of 90, he seeks to master one more discipline, civic activism, on learning that his main architectural work – Kiev’s’s UFO building – is under threat of being turned into a shopping mall. 

Producer Lyuba Knorozok (Kinotron Group) will be drumming up sales, festival and post-production interest in Cannes, and looking to secure a sales agent. “In recent months, the situation of elderly people in our societies has been put into stark relief. Many of us had to rethink our attitudes towards this group of people that’s often overlooked and marginalized,” he says.  

Docudays UA’s Bassel adds: “What I really like about these projects is that they are very cinematic and the artistic language is very interesting. On the other hand they raise very important social and human rights issues. It is a very good combination, all the titles are very promising and I hope that they are going to have a beautiful future.”