The collapse of the Soviet Union imposed new relationships and living conditions to all the state parties. The countries that had firmly been connected to each other for 70 years became independent in a day not knowing how to move on. And during this chaos of 1990s the process of the privatization of places began resulting to the destruction of thousands of cultural and educational institutions. The situation was the same in all the countries. The meeting “Kyiv film encounters” organized in Kiev recently was dedicated to the activities in the sphere of cinema in a number of post post-Soviet countries, including Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.
Kinoashkharh has conducted an interview with one of the organizers of the event Denis Ivanov, Director General of Arthouse Traffic Distribution Company. The company has been engaged in the distribution of arthouse films for 13 years and has released more than 400 films including the films of such world famous directors as Wim Wenders, Jacques Perrin, Franco Ozon, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Jacques Audiard, etc.
“Have you passed a difficult way?”
“In fact Ukraine was a bit lucky, we haven’t had armed conflicts, haven’t fought for our freedom as it is the case today. Of course at that time the cinemas turned into night clubs, furniture shops, etc. Several cinemas that nevertheless continued to function, were in poor conditions. And the relations in the film market were very strange. Unauthorized films were shown on TV and there was an impression that the concept of “copyright” had temporarily disappeared.
Our film market started at the time when the first contemporary cinema opened in Kiev, and the tickets of which were very expensive. Hollywood blockbusters began to be screened in the cinema. The company which dealt with it was called P&H. Its director Bogdan Badukh, who is an ethnic Ukrainian, has lived in Poland for a long time and also has a residence permit in Switzerland being so-called a cosmopolitan. Today, in fact, he is the major monopolist in the sphere of film market. But what interests us is the art, cinema as an art form with all its sides. Our company deals with it.
Actually in 1990s a big film festival existed: “The Youth”, and in fact the system of film clubs also operated. For example the film club of Odessa directed by Ian Yusim. I am from Donetsk. In those years we created a film club there. We were watching the films that were shown on the big TV screen by the pirats of the foreign films. It was “a golden collection” of films preserved up to now. In that way we managed to interact with the classic cinema watching the films of Chaplin, Fellini, Greenaway and Kusturica.
In 2000 I and my wife, the founders of our club, came to Kiev and started working at the film festival “The Youth”. At first we were volunteers but later we were included in the staff list. And gradually our hobby turned into a job. It was a good experience as we got acquainted with the film market and understood how it all worked. We found out that there was a group of film viewers who sought good films but no one worked with them. And we thought to be engaged in it. But as we didn’t know how the things were carried out the first three years were cruel for us. We were constantly losing money and indebted. Thus we began studying the sphere and the available experience. We realized that if we created our own company we hand to work more and better than the others and had to apply innovative methods. In this way we gradually began to learn from our mistakes and advantages. During the course of time a concept was formed: art cinema is not a mere distribution. It also incorporates selling the local projects to the TV channels and selling them abroad. Thus we began to imagine the art cinema operating on totally different platforms.
In that way we started to build our company to make the sphere viable because Ukraine, as well as the other countries, often suffer crisis. We remain attached to Russia in many spheres, we depend on western sponsors. We haven’t cracked down corruption so far. Thus you must be resistant in such conditions and make sure to pay the wages of the workers on time. And as the dollar exchange rate has increased recently we need to raise salaries, at least we should strive for it. The team is the most important thing. Our crew consists of 15 members and we do everything by ourselves.”
“When did you begin your activities?”
“In 2003. It turs out to be for 13 years. Everything changes very quickly in the film market and we try to keep up with that changes. When we started working the market of VHS cassettes was popular. And we released the films on them. Then DVDs emerged. We opened our own company and began to publish and sell our films. Later DVDs suffered a crisis and so did we.”
“How do you work with foreign partners? Based on my experience I can state that it is very difficult to work with them as they have already achieved a lot and know everything. How do you cope with it all?”
“Still we don’t know well how to deal with them. But we realize that life goes on. We can state that the Ukrainian market is growing. Ukraine has 40 million population. Even in this crisis situation our market is 70 per cent more than that of Poland. On the other hand there is absolutely no perception of reality here. People find it difficult to figure out whether we are in Europe or Asia and who our neighbors are, not to mention our lifestyle. So we have never had ambitions to get ahead of Russia, to establish close relationships with right holders. Our Russian partners are our good friends and we have quite normal, healthy labor relations with them. But life moves on and the film market grows. And we should take the first step and to contact with the holders. Otherwise we will remain attached to another state and will not register any progress.”
“Do you participate in film festivals?”
“We try to leave for Cannes, Berlin. There might be 150-200 guests at the festivals. At once you can get acquainted with them all and interact.”
“It is interesting whether people watch arthouse films in Ukraine. Are there any specific places where only those films are screened?”
“The issues regarding the art cinema are connected with the development of an audience. The fans of the arthouse films form a big group. But they watch the films through pirated means. In that case the task of the distributor is to unite that audience in this or that platform. When we begin our activities we had a number of basic platforms. We have a cinema that has a large audience, it is located near an educational center. Later the cinema “Kiev” joined us where we began to hold film festivals. Then the conflict with Russia began. And we started to review our film politics in order to maintain stability. We became very active in the internet, we held film premieres and prepared the audience for them to be aware of the films to be screened. A screening can be attended by 500 people and another one by 50 people. We have film clubs and some so-called “arthouse hits” are screened there. Eventually an arthouse film screening can have both large and small audience.”
“What is the secret of your success?”
“I think the success that we have registered is based on the fact that we have been engaged in the same job for a long time. We have made a lot of mistakes, we have repeatedly found ourselves in “agony” not knowing whether our job will have a future or not. But every time we find a new way out. A company cannot slacken, it either develops or collapses. You must keep it afloat for it not to go down. So we do what we know well, what we can and we always make efforts to develop our work.
Currently we are mainly engaged in shootings. We have been the responsible company to promote Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s film The Tribe. Now we are working on Sergei Loznitsa’s film project “Donbass”. We try to tale pert in co-productions. I think we are knowledgeable enough to create ties between the countries. Our mission is to present Ukraine abroad, for example in film festivals. We have been in the EU Office, Brussels. In January of this year we held a film festival there and we intend to do it again next year. You ought to promote your own country worldwide.”
“As far as I get it your company is the only one in Ukraine, don’t have any competitors?”
“We have partners but our company is the only one that deals with art cinema. In order to create such a company, it needs to pass the road that we have passed. Sometimes drives produced by other companies are likely to appear in the film market. And it is good, as we cannot release all the good films of the world. We have numerous partners. There is a good team called “86- Rental” that deals with documentary films. They are still searching and have organized a very good film festival in Slavutich. I think such projects should be more in a country with 40 million population. Thus we are good with it. In fact we all want one thing: involve more people in cinema. And I think that if people work in that sphere they bring audience to the cinema. In other words if people come to watch documentary films they see the posters of our company and later they also attend our screenings.
The news agencies that provide information about movies do a very important work. We are sorry to claim that the headings about culture have been removed from different newspapers or online news agencies. Fortunately some famous online magazines have restored the headings on culture. And they also write about cinema, some progress is visible in that respect. I like Armenians very much in connection with it, especially your Diaspora. Everyone helps each other in implementing each project. It is a good national feature, and it would be great if the Ukrainians imitate it.”
“I would like to clarify how many cinemas were left in Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union?”
“Before the collapse of the Soviet Union there were thousands of cinemas operating in the country. And after the collapse no one has conducted a proper monitoring in that sphere. Another question is how they have worked and what films have been screened. Of course it is possible to study the old newspapers and find the posters and the TV programs. But on the opening of the modern cinemas copyrights were reached and everything became legal. All this created a market which is growing in spite of the economic crisis and the conflict which is underway in the eastern Ukraine. But still it is far from the desired results and it has a place to grow. And it is not based on the fact that we all are film lovers. No, it is just a good form of entertainment. Attending cinema is cheaper than spending your time in a restaurant, bar or disco. In addition to it, it is an interesting form of entertainment. Ukraine is a big country with a significant amount of population and big cities, but there are some places where the network of cinema is not developed at all. Now we are waiting for the adoption of the “Law on Cinema”. It is in the stage of final amendments and soon will be put to public discussion. The draft law touches upon a large number of issues including the one about opening cinemas in small villages and towns. We can take loan and the state undertakes to cover all banking costs. We will see what will come out of it. In fact we have borrowed that idea from the Frenchmen, it is the French system of supporting the cinematography. But we still don’t know how to finance ourselves. The money belongs to the state which decides how to allocate it. We want to create Cinema Foundation as now the state allocates 7.5 million euros to cinema annually.”
“Finally let’s turn to this conference. What intentions and expectations do you have?”
“Our intention was to bring together many distributors, film renters to discuss together those key issues that are common to us all. We want those people who sell films consult with us. Ukraine has quite a big film market which is allegedly the second one in the post-Soviet region after Russia. There is a big film market in Kazakhstan and in your country as well. Civilization moves on and the negotiations have begun between our countries. But we don’t have results yet and we haven’t even had such a practical purpose. We don’t expect to make deals but we have already reached agreements. All the guests already know and trust each other, so there might also be some made deals. The British companies will surely sell films. But the thing is selling is a comprehensive task consisting of talks, contracts and bargains. That long process can begin in a film market, go on during the period that divides one film market from the other and end already in the next market. That is the reason why we want people to get acquainted with each other and to understand how that mechanism works.”
“Is there an issue that we didn’t turn to?”
“No, it seems that we touched upon all the issues. I think that we should organize meetings more often. The point is that we want to register great success in big western countries such as Britain and France, we try to make them pay attention to us and take us seriously but meanwhile we don’t face each other, we don’t see a perspective in that cooperation. Whereas a quite successful co-production is possible between our countries. We can enter a joint market. I believe it is the right choice. We can work together, collect information and convey to each other. Here is a way to public democracy.
The interview by Ruzan Bagratunyan