20 Days In Mariupol

Source: Sundance Film Festival

‘20 Days In Mariupol’

Ukrainian filmmakers and producers, including Mstyslav Chernov, the Oscar-winning director of 20 Days In Mariupol, are attending Cannes in significant numbers despite the ongoing war in Ukraine following the Russian invasion. 

Against heavy odds, fictional films are being made in Ukraine. Evgeniy Drachov, head of FILM.UA Distribution, is in Cannes pre-selling two new genre features: supernatural horror The Witch Revenge and thriller The Dam. Despite the war, the company is still trying to make “entertaining content” that will attract international buyers.

Alisa Kovalenko is presenting footage of her documentary project Frontline, about her experiences in the armed forces after the Russian invasion, in the East Doc Platform Showcase. “We’ll have a first rough cut in June,” she said. 

The film deals with her experiences in the armed forces after the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022. It is produced by HAKA Films in Poland and co-produced by Ström Films in Denmark. The project received support at an early stage from the scheme set up by Netflix and the Ukrainian Film Academy in 2022. 

“It’s a personal story based a lot on my letters which I wrote for my son when I was on the frontline. I was thinking that if I should die, I want to save some memories,” the director says of her film.

Titles from Generation Ukraine, a collection of 12 documentaries about the war supported by ARTE, are also being showcased. Some films have already been completed and are being presented in the market, including Oksana Karpovych’s Berlinale hit Intercepted sold by Lightdox, and Svitlana Lishchynska’s A Bit Of A Stranger, sold by Film Harbour.

Others are still shooting or at the post-production stage. One nearing completion is Olha Zhurba’s Displaced, exploring the huge social upheaval caused by the war. The producers behind the projects are looking for extra financing and sales agent support in Cannes.

European Solidarity Fund For Ukrainian Films (ESFUF), set up by EFAD members under CNC coordination at last year’s Berlinale, is also presenting projects it has backed to distributors and sales agents in the market. The Fund, which supports development and post-production, will also be announcing the latest projects it is supporting

Among the films are Real, the new documentary from Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian director currently fighting in an infantry regiment. This is being made through AT Films and its producer Denis Ivanov will be in Cannes to represent it. The documentary, now in post-production, was shot last year on the frontline.

“Oleg occasionally switched on the camera and recorded this immersive experience, to be in the trenches. It is not a lot of action but [shows] how the world is looking like from a combatant’s point of view,” said Ivanov.

The producer is also at Cannes as a buyer through his company Art House Traffic.

Sergei Loznitsa’s new film The Invasion is premiering in Special Screenings. It was produced and is being sold through Atoms & Void, the Dutch company the director runs with Maria Choustova. The film, shot over a period of two years, looks at every aspect of life in Ukraine since the invasion. It covers funerals, weddings, shows the experiences of schoolchildren and has footage of wounded army veterans in rehab clinics.

Additionally, Cannes Docs is collaborating with Docudays UA International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, which takes place in Kyiv 31 May-9 June. “They give a lot of promotional support and try to support Ukrainian films as much as they can,” says Darya Bassel, head of the DOCU/PRO industry platform.

Various Ukrainians are participating in the Cannes market’s Producers Network, including Daria Zakharova, Oleksandra Kostina, Regina Maryanovska Davidzon, Olena Morentsova-Shulyk and Veronika Stepanchuk.

And Chernov is due to take part alongside other filmmakers in a panel arranged by Think Film Impact Production on ‘Where Is Truth? Why Democracy Depends On Film.”