Twelve months since the Russian invasion, TBI talks to Ukrainian media organisations about how they have kept cameras rolling in a country in the midst of conflict.
Running all through this week, we’ll be publishing extended interviews from our recent article on Ukrainain production (which you can read here).
Here, Volodymyr Borodyansky, Ukraine’s former minister of culture and co-founder of the Organization of Ukrainian Producers (OUP) reveals how the initiative has been working to document the conflict and share the reality of the war with the world.
As an OUP producer, he has curated films Mariupol. Unlost Hope, Mariupol. Occupied, Mariupol. Fury Makes Me Breathe, How to Survive When You Are Being Killed and Blackout Christmas.
From 2004 to 2018 he served as CEO of Ukainian broadcaster STB and in 2012 was elevated to CEO of parent group Starlight Media, during which time he produced shows including To Catch The Kaidash, Guards Of Dreams and Winter Country.
What have been your main challenges to production in the past 12 months?
The war posed the same challenge to us, producers, as it did to Ukrainian society: not to let the enemy destroy us, to endure and win.
In the beginning, we had to make all decisions very quickly – and the OUP focused on documentaries as being more in tune with the times and cheaper to produce than feature films. For all the OUP producers and most of the creative professionals we started working with, documentary filmmaking was a new kind of activity. Before the war, we had all been making either feature films or TV projects.
The challenge for me personally was how to show characters experiencing an extreme degree of human grief.
How is the situation for you at the moment? Do you have projects currently in production? How are these progressing?
In 10 months we have made 12 films, including one feature film. In the coming months, as a producer, I hope to finish five documentaries, six months later another, Evolution Of Propaganda, and launch several new ones.
The two documentaries are a continuation of the Mariupol series. Mariupol. Occupied explores how the Ukrainian city of Mariupol lived in April-September 2022, during the occupation by Russian forces. Mariupol. Fury Makes Me Breathe is a film portrait of Mariupol resident Xenia Kayan, who went through hell and is now fighting for her future. Mariupol, which has been destroyed, invaded and occupied by the Russians, is a natural “laboratory” for exploring the theme of this war. The director’s chosen approach to the Mariupol series, based on the testimonies of ordinary people, unaffected by the author’s narrative, is very effective in conveying the truth about the war.
Two films we are producing together with Viktor Mirsky, co-founder of OUP and Film.UA Group: How to Survive When You Are Being Killed and a film about territorial defence.
How To Survive When You Are Being Killed is a film metaphor for society in war; the story of 40 unfamiliar neighbours in an apartment complex in the Kyiv region who are trying to survive next to an enemy who destroys everything and can shoot you just because he feels like it.
The film about territorial defence is an investigation into why people without proper military experience were not afraid of the aggressor and what underlying traits of Ukrainians made this resistance possible. The film will be directed by Maxim Kurochkin – a playwright, screenwriter, co-founder and artistic director of Playwrights Theatre, who joined the TRO (Territorial Defence Forces) on the second day of the war, 25 February 2022, and is now in active military.
Evolution of Propaganda is probably our heaviest and longest project. The topic of mass propaganda is as deep as it is important on a global scale. Ten months ago we started gathering material, talking to experts – we’ve already changed our approach completely twice – and we still haven’t got to the filming stage. We want to get the message across to the world that information warfare is not a figure of speech. It is a weapon with which crimes are committed. Propaganda kills.
The newest film is Blackout. Christmas which we are producing together with Daria Leygonie-Fialko, co-founder of the OUP and founder of Space Production. It’s about the energy industry’s struggle to keep the lights on in homes during the brightest of Christmas holidays.
What do you expect the upcoming months to look like for you and your company?
We are highly dependent on news from the front, so planning is very approximate. I think all of Ukrainian society is at a stage where we don’t allow ourselves to “get tired of the war”, but move forward by force of will. The mission of the OUP is to document and open the eyes of the world to the truth about the war in Ukraine. We showed Mariupol. Unlost Hope, a film testimony from Mariupol residents about the first month of the war – in 50+ countries. What we saw and heard from the audience, ordinary people in prosperous countries who have never experienced war, showed us that we are on the right track. In the coming months I hope to finish the rest of my films, and in another six months a documentary about propaganda.
How best can the global industry support Ukrainian productions in the months ahead?
Mariupol. Unlost Hope concludes with these words: “There are hundreds of thousands of people left in hell. Every day it becomes harder for them to survive. Please help them. Tell the truth about my city”. Being attentive to films, choosing the right ones for you, buying screening rights, attracting viewers – that’s what will be the best support from the world. We are also open to partnerships from the very beginning of film making.