Europe Rallies Around Ukrainian Entertainment Industry Professionals

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When she arrived in Warsaw just weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, Yanina Kucher, an entertainment industry veteran with more than a decade of experience in her country’s film industry, wasn’t ready for a long stay. She left first Kyiv, then Lviv, taking her cousin’s wife and young niece to neighboring Poland to await the brief conflict she hoped.

Compared to the alien metropolis of Western Europe, Warsaw feels somewhat familiar, not so geographically and culturally distant. She has a personal and professional network in the Polish capital and can quickly find her home. Yet her mind was never far from the war: the parents who stubbornly refused to leave Kyiv; reports of the brutal and horrific advance of the Russian army. “It’s every day,” she told type“I have friends who lost their lives in this war. I always keep in touch with my relatives and friends.”

Six months after Russia invaded Ukraine, the war has left a trail of destruction and displacement. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as of August 24 (Ukraine’s Independence Day), more than 6.8 million refugees from Ukraine were recorded across Europe, with more than 1.3 million settling in Poland and nearly 1 million in Germany . More than 2 million people cross the border into Russia: many want a resettlement grant promised by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and some – especially from Ukraine’s war-torn east – because they have nowhere to go can go.

For those migrating west — including hundreds of members of the country’s now-fragmented film industry — the prospect of resettlement is fraught with challenges: red tape, unfamiliar language, the uncertainty of starting a new life away from support networks Family. Many have spent years climbing the rungs of the growing Ukrainian film and television business, only to find themselves starting from scratch in a foreign country.

But the heaviest burden for Kucher was the emotional burden. “I’m not ready at all [to settle in Warsaw],” she said. “I hope I can get a chance to return to my country as soon as possible. “

sense of unity

In the days following the first troop movement, a Russian attack on Ukraine disrupted production in the country. Kyiv-based feature and documentary filmmaker Igor Savichenko said most plans to make films this year were thwarted by the war: “The crew were either at war, evacuated, or doing volunteer work.”

Savichenko has completed one of the first documentaries to be released since Russia launched its invasion on February 24. A Day in Ukraine, directed by Volodomyr Tykhyy, chronicles a day in March when Kyiv was threatened by a siege by Russian troops. The film premiered in June at DocFest in Sheffield, UK.

“A Day in Ukraine” was filmed in March when Kyiv was threatened by Russian troops

Courtesy of Igor Savchenko

With state film funding suspended and TV sources quickly disappearing when news-only, Savichenko estimates domestic film activity in Ukraine is “20 or 30 times less” than it was before the war.

Co-productions within Ukraine are now nearly impossible: public film funding in Europe is bureaucratic and slow, and Hollywood-backed films are hampered by insurance issues.

Plans to start filming a light comedy in May were abandoned, with new ideas for films related to war — such as “Sakura,” about how a soldier’s relationship with his daughter is affected by post-traumatic stress disorder.

One ongoing project is the $7 million Polish-Ukrainian film Gorky Resort, which is set in 1939 about the Soviet liquidation of Polish officers, and this year’s Russian troops in Butcha and other Ukrainian communities. The Holocaust echoes.

After the war prevented Ukraine from fulfilling its $700,000 co-production commitment, Polish producer Marek Nowowiejski decided to fully fund the project, granting Ukraine an honorary co-production credit and Ukrainian distribution rights. Directed by Lukasz Palkowski, the film is currently in pre-production and will employ at least 40% of the crew and many actors from Ukraine.

“History repeats itself,” Nowowiejski said. “The subject of Russian aggression belongs to recent Polish history, but for Ukraine it is a contemporary reality.

“We know the tragedy in Ukraine better than any other country. This film will be dedicated to all the victims of Russian barbarism.”

Meanwhile, the hit Ukrainian costume drama Love in Chains (Part 1) moved to Poland for its fourth and final season, with some cast and crew — some requiring special permission — from Ukraine. Polish producer Stanisław Zaborowski said the final shooting day was a “time of joy and sadness” because “the filmmakers who participated in the shooting returned to their countries without much The prospect of many new projects.”

The producer, who helped producers overcome the logistical challenges of relocating to Poland, described it as “the most exciting project I’ve ever worked on.” He added: “Both the Polish and Ukrainian crews feel brotherly help, solidarity and support.”

pitch

Efforts are being made across Europe to help the many Ukrainian films that have been troubled by the war. At the Marché du Film at the Cannes Film Festival, 12 European film funds jointly launched Ukrainian Film Now, a fundraising and networking event to support the post-production of Ukrainian films. The Polish Film Academy launched a similar initiative, helping some 30 Ukrainian films cross the finish line.

European industry professionals are working to absorb the countless refugees displaced by the war. In Poland, the list of available Ukrainian crew members began “spreading like wildfire” after the invasion, said producer Krzysztof Solek, whose credits include the Anglo-Ukrainian spy thriller “Legacy of Lies.” Bogdan Moncea of ​​Castel Film Studios in Bucharest offers job and matchmaking support to any Ukrainian looking for work in Romania.

On the Hungarian border, production service Pioneer Stillking Films hired Ukrainian crews for productions including NBCUniversal’s “FBI International” and Lionsgate’s “The Continental,” while arranging housing for those they couldn’t hire. The catering company that feeds the Hollywood blockbuster production in Budapest has started cooking extra meals for refugees.

As the Russian campaign dragged on, Kutcher began to assess her prospects in Warsaw, the heart of the booming Polish film industry. She sent out her resume, which included work on Beta Film’s crime drama “Silence” and her first commercial as “Legacy of Lies.” Hunt found some odd jobs—translation work for foreign journalists; spells for clothing rentals; a brief position at a television company producing Ukrainian content about Poland—but nothing matched her credentials.

Europe Rallies Around Ukrainian Entertainment Industry Professionals Yanina Kucher2 1

Yanina Kucher on the set of Beta Film’s crime drama “Silence”

Courtesy of Maya Maximova

Kucher’s hopes are starting to fade, though thanks to the industry’s solidarity around her. She considered whether it was time to leave the film industry altogether. But she continues to reach out to industry contacts in Poland and beyond, knowing that her long-awaited homecoming could take months or even years. “I’ve been praying and I’m working on it,” she said.

volatile situation

A month after the Russian invasion, Czech Republic Film Commissioner Pavlína Žipková wrote to foreign producers announcing the suspension of the country’s cash rebate program, citing the “sudden need for humanitarian and Financial Aid for Military Support”. (The program has since resumed.) In neighboring Hungary, which has Europe’s second-largest production center after the U.K., war was a major talking point “in the first week or month of the outbreak,” Mid-Atlantic Films said. Companies are feeling “nervous” among Hollywood studio partners.

For now, fears that the war could spread to neighboring countries remain unfounded. Production continues to grow rapidly across the region, with Warner Bros. and Legendary’s Dune: Part II being the high-profile studio production currently filming in Budapest. Industry sources in Eastern Europe say there have been no major disruptions as the war progressed.

Still, its impact has been reflected in soaring production costs, driven in part by Russia’s decision to cut off European oil and gas supplies in retaliation for sanctions on Putin’s regime, and in part by the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic and global broader signs of a recession. economic recession. “It’s still a fluid situation, but we’re budgeting accordingly,” said Goodman, who is providing production services for “Dune.”

After the initial wave of refugees, the number of people leaving Ukraine has declined. A weekly meeting organized by the Polish Producers’ Union in Warsaw to try to mobilize industry support for the war effort has now become a monthly affair. Alicja Grawon-Jaksik, president of the coalition, said that while support and employment opportunities are still being provided to refugees in Poland, much of the group’s energy is devoted to finding remote jobs for industry professionals still in Ukraine. “They want to stay in Ukraine, they need money.”

Many of Kucher’s friends and colleagues went on to the more prosperous economies and film industries of Western Europe. One editor who fled Ukraine found a job in Cologne, where many post-production companies are located; another spent four months in Berlin, making music videos and other small-scale productions, before packing up for the UK. Still others continue to look for any opportunity that can be exploited, no matter what the search may lead to.

a day later with typeAfterwards, Kutcher boarded a flight to Georgia, where she will participate in an Israeli production filmed in the former Soviet republic. Production will move to Italy 10 days after filming, but it’s unclear if Kucher will be invited to join.

Six months of war and exile had made her accustomed to the uncertainty. She was ready, even if she wasn’t sure for what. “I don’t feel like an immigrant. I don’t know if I’ll stay in Poland. I don’t know if I’ll go home,” she said. “I’m between these two countries and I feel like someone who’s always ready to pack up and move somewhere else – even back to Ukraine.”

Nick Holdsworth contributed to this report.

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