The Odessa International Film Festival is often cited as an event with the ambition to be the “Ukrainian Cannes”. Do you have that ambition or did you give up on it?
I wouldn’t say we want to be like Cannes. Cannes is often referred to as a very glamorous festival. OIFF chooses films based on their audience potential. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we don’t show arthouse cinema. We have an ambition to become the main meeting point for film industry representatives from Ukraine and neighboring countries – Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia. We have a geographical advantage, and also industry-wise, since the Ukrainian film industry is slightly bigger. We invite people who have a deep interest in Eastern European cinema. For instance, five years ago professionals came to Odessa just to have a look around. Now they are coming with a particular interest – searching for projects, films, connecting to certain people. Still, the Ukrainian film industry should also evolve in this case, and increase the number of cinemas, develop the educational system in film, and things like that.
How does the festival address the political and social issues in Ukraine? And how does this intention correspond with your wish to be an audience-friendly festival?
This is a common question for most festival managers, you know, whether festivals should reflect on politics and social issues. As for OIFF, we have special programmes for that. Of course, when we select films in the main competition, we go by different type of guidelines, but we cannot ignore the Oleg Sentsov case, for example. So we pick films that cover important topics in special out-of-competition sections. Also, generally speaking, selecting films for OIFF means we need to acknowledge the fact that Ukrainian viewers rarely got the chance of watching different types of films – starting with the Soviet period till now. Ukraine lacks screens and film education, as I said earlier. So the mission for a festival like Odessa is to showcase non-blockbuster, auteur films.
Up until a couple of years ago, a Ukrainian film festival would screen almost every local feature-length film that was submitted. Now, there is a selection process. What are the criteria for the selection of Ukrainian films?
There have been certainly more shorts and documentaries made over the last few years. As for full-length feature films, we start to follow them at the pre-production stage. Usually we manage to get all the films that we laid eyes on in the National competition.
Do you have a list of Ukrainian directors whose films you follow? And does the festival consider itself a platform to discover those filmmakers?
There are certainly some ‘festival babies’ – films that were pitched in Odessa, then came to the festival as work-in-progress and later were screened at OIFF. We also help Ukrainian films be considered by foreign international film festivals. I don’t want to name names, but let’s say there are some Ukrainian film directors who can send their films after the application deadline and still be considered and even accepted at OIFF.
How have the festival dynamic in Ukraine changed since Molodist in Kyiv moved its dates from late October to the end of May? I ask with regard to the selection of Ukrainian films as well, as both film festivals have Ukrainian short film competitions.
I don’t think that dynamic changed in a radical way. We didn’t sense any difference. Still, I’m not sure if moving Molodist to May was a good decision: spring and summer in Ukraine are pretty busy with festivals, while the fall season remains vacant.
What about Docudays UA? In 2016 you established a Documentary Competition at OIFF. From an international point of view, it makes sense – the Berlinale has one too, for example - but in the Ukrainian context it was seen as a challenge to Docudays UA, which is the most important documentary film festival in the country.
The Documentary competition in Odessa complements Docudays UA, rather than competing with them. In fact, we are friends with Roman Bondarchuk [the Art Director of Docudays UA], he was on our Jury once. His films took part in different programs. I hope to cooperate with them, in a way. Docudays UA has a clear profile: films about human rights. Meanwhile, we show audience-friendly documentaries.
As a film producer and a festival manager, how do you see Ukrainian-Polish relationships in our industry?
I think the cooperation between our countries is very natural – we are neighbors and at some point shared a common history. The film industry in Poland is much more evolved, so Ukrainian filmmakers can benefit from working with Polish colleagues.
Do today's political issues between Ukraine and Poland influence these relations, in your opinion?
Not yet, but my Polish colleagues and I follow the situation and hope that everything between Ukraine and Poland remains the same. I know that the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs thinks that relations with Poland are of the highest priority right now. The Ukrainian Institute [a recently established state institution that deals with public diplomacy] also has Poland among their immediate priorities.
In 2019 you will have your 10th edition. Do you plan to make changes in the festival? What is your strategy for further development?
We are actually working on that strategy right now. The festival team understands that there are higher expectations for the 10th edition, and we expect that a lot of people will come: winners of previous editions of OIFF, stars, filmmakers, cinephiles. For now, we are going to change the rules and regulations of OIFF a little bit, but we don’t want to show more films. I think the amount of films at the OIFF is adequate. I would also like to establish a programme for children in the nearest future. I am not talking about just showing films for kids, but organising a full educational plan, so they could learn about arthouse and auteur cinema as early in their lives as possible.