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Ukrainian Filmmakers Call for More Europe-wide Support

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European film agencies, festivals and organizations could do more to support Ukrainian filmmakers, the head of Germany’s state film promotion body, German Films, says.

Simone Baumann, managing director of German Films — which supports the promotion of national filmmakers at festivals and events worldwide — says there is a lot of talk at festival panels and industry gatherings of supporting Ukrainians, but little financial backing.

“Festivals, especially the Berlinale, are trying to help by giving the Ukrainians a discount on the European Film Market booth, but there are not many other organisations that are helping them pay their way,” Baumann says.

“It could be better. In Cannes last year, it was the Estonians and German Films that supported the Ukrainian pavilion. Poland has also been helping — many Ukrainian (and Belarusian) filmmaker have got asylum there, and they are trying to help with projects too.”

One example of good practice, she says, was the European Solidarity Fund for Ukrainian Producers, which had €1.3 million ($1.4 million) available in 2023 for projects where the Ukrainians had a co-producer in one of the 16 EU countries where the national film funds are supporting the project.

The scheme offers support for “cinematic works by a Ukrainian director at the development of finalization stage” but is capped at €25,000 for documentaries, and €50,000 for fiction or animation.

“It is not big money, and covers all kinds of projects at all stages of development. For production you need other resources to produce; there is a kind of danger for the Ukrainian film industry that at a certain moment it is going to collapse because producers won’t be able to find the resources anymore,” Baumann adds.

Ukrainian filmmakers agree that there could be better and more cohesive support.

Kyiv-based producer Igor Savychenko, says the picture was “complicated” but that there had been a host of programs launched by donors since the Russian invasion two years ago, including grants to individual filmmakers under the Filmboost project, supported by the Polish Film Institute and Netflix for up to €8,500 each, and Netflix grants of up to $15,000 each for 48 documentary and fiction projects. Various residencies and presentation or delegation support had been offered by festivals including Tallinn, Toronto, Sarajevo and Karlovy Vary. American overseas support agency, USAID, had also provided support for a number of projects.

In 2022, the Warsaw film festival hosted the Odessa Film Festival, he adds. Ukrainian projects had also been commissioned by BBC Storyville, and Ukrainian projects had received Eurimages development backing.

Domestic support for Ukrainian filmmakers had been interrupted since the invasion, but the Ukrainian State Film Agency (USFA) had recently been officially allocated a budget that included more than €10 million for production, but internal opposition from “a significant number of Ukrainian filmmakers” was currently “sabotaging” the competition for grants, he says.

Julia Sinkevych, former head of Odessa Film Festival and now a board member of the Ukrainian Filmmakers Union, agrees that opposition from many filmmakers in Ukraine to the current management of the USFA is preventing distribution of money.

More than 700 filmmakers, including director and former Russian prisoner, Oleg Sentsov, had signed an open letter to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying the agency’s budget (which totals €16 million, including the €10 million slated for production grants) was “better spent on the army.”

“The letter states that although film is extremely important in a time of war, and supporting the arts and film should be a priority, the agency does not have the trust of filmmakers,” Sinkevich says. “Nobody believes this money will be distributed in an honest and transparent way.”

The controversy over the state film agency had even reached Europe — where Tiina Lokk, head of Tallinn’s Black Nights Film Festival, had told Ukrainian news site LB.UA that she regarded agency head Marina Kuderchuk as “absolutely incompetent in cinema.”

Regarding support for Ukrainians at festivals such as the Berlinale, Sinkevich says it was inconsistent: the EFM was giving a discount to the USFA for its stand this year, when the agency now had a budget for such events. At the same time a presentation of Ukrainian producers at the EFM’s Producers Hub she was organizing with support from USAID had to pay the full fee.

“Some Ukrainian filmmakers have asked if there were discounts for accreditation at the Berlinale this year, like last, but have been told there is nothing. This is the same kind of treatment we get at Cannes,” Sinkevych adds.

Head of EFM Dennis Ruh says the market was doing its best to support the Ukrainian film industry, but tough choices had to be made this year. “Activities in 2023 were funded by the Goethe Institute, the Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, and USAID and German Films. But for 2024, in response to my initial inquiry, no special funding was provided by Germany funding bodies, ministries and institutions, beside the support from German Films for promoting Ukrainian-German co-productions and corresponding opportunities at the Ukrainian stand.”

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