To co-produce or not to co-produce, that is the question at Odesa
by Marta Bałaga
- The second edition of Cinema: Backstage, previously focusing on gender equality, shone the spotlight on international co-productions during an engaging event that favoured practice over theory
Kick-started by Viktoriya Tigipko, president of the Odesa International Film Festival, as well as general producer Julia Sinkevich, the second edition of “Cinema: Backstage - Why Co-productions? Pure Financing or Cultural Enhancement?” left no stone unturned – at least as far as the ever-evolving world of international co-productions is concerned. Divided into two parts and moderated by Tamara Tatishvili, the event saw experts such as Roberto Olla, executive director of the Council of Europe’s Eurimages Film Fund, Israel Film Fund veteran Katriel Schory, managing director of Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg Kirsten Niehuus, head of the Ukrainian State Film Agency Philip Ilienko and the Romanian Film Center’s Alex Traila swap war stories but also share their hopes for the future.
“I entered the world of co-productions for all the wrong reasons and made what is now considered Israel’s worst film. It’s not a magic formula,” admitted Schory openly. “I am all for it – if you understand the rules of the game. I have been married for more than 42 years, so I know all about compromise, but with so many financial sources, everyone has an opinion and it can drive you crazy. Always remember the film you set out to make. Otherwise, it will just go down the drain,” he added, to the sound of spontaneous applause from the room, before stressing that in order to survive, future co-productions need to diversify. “We need to open up to different genres. I am proud to say that we produced four zombie movies with taxpayers’ money, and nobody died. We all remember the pudding era of European co-productions: nobody wants to go back to that.”
In the new media landscape, there is no other way but forward. “Maybe the world has changed, and maybe co-productions are like first aid, serving to save a certain kind of cinema. I wish we could go back to the days when co-producing was just for cultural enhancement,” said Kirsten Niehuus. “The idea is to help make films that the market alone can’t produce. But there is also joy to be found in working with people from other countries who share the same tastes and the same ideas,” added Roberto Olla, while also underlining the importance of thinking about the future. “As Kirsten said, we are in a moment of transition – not only when it comes to the content, but also in terms of whom we should be making it with. The rules are changing.”
Exchanging their own experiences and success stories – or discussing new, interesting co-productions like And Then We Danced [+see also:
interview: Levan Akin
interview: Levan Gelbakhiani
film profile], a Swedish-Georgian-French co-pro also shown at the festival – some of the participants also reflected on how the topic is currently being echoed in Ukraine, especially considering the drastic political changes. “We needed to kick-start the whole industry, to reload it,” admitted Philip Ilienko. “But we still want to show our unique culture to the world.” While agreeing that there is a need to make national schemes more coherent and to have the courage to step away from what used to be done, even though co-productions can elevate films’ position on the festival circuit, the consensus was clear: it’s important to avoid the “co-production craze” and simply put the film first. “In Romania, it all started with The Death of Mr. Lazarescu [+see also:
film profile],” noted Alex Traila. “The film commission decided not to support it, and that was the beginning of the revolution. What we are seeing now is a strategy transferred from the filmmakers’ desire to co-operate and work internationally.”
Still, as stressed in the second part of the event by his fellow countrywoman Anamaria Antoci (of Tangaj Production), that was then and this is now, with co-productions still allowing for finding new ways of storytelling instead of remaining stuck in the old ways, however comfortable they may be. Antoci was joined by other producers, Cedomir Kolar of ASAP Films, Vladimer Katcharava of 20 Steps Production, Slot Machine’s Marianne Slot, Rebecca Garrido of Manderley Films, Momento Film’s David Herdies, and Ukraine’s very own Vladimir Yatsenko of Limelite and Denis Ivanov of Arthouse Traffic, who all shared personal memories with the curious audience.
“I started to think about co-productions at a panel like this. I was 22 years old,” recalled Ivanov, who was also in town to pitch Our Breasts - Our Weapons: History of FEMEN Movement, a co-production between Ukraine and France set to be directed by Crystal Swan [+see also:
interview: Darya Zhuk
film profile]’s Darya Zhuk. “I didn’t have any experience, so for me, it looked like this: ‘Ok, I have a story, so give me some money and we will go from there.’ Before 2014, we were a satellite of the Russian film industry, and then, suddenly, we all felt the need to have our own voice. Co-production is not just about resources; it’s about a story that needs to be understood in different countries.” And, as underlined repeatedly throughout the day, it’s also about good partners that help you to evolve instead of dragging you down. “If it doesn’t work, you should stop. You can love the director, but people change – just like in a marriage. At a certain point, you need to say goodbye,” said Cedomir Kolar. But there is also one more reason to consider co-producing, as summed up by Sweden’s David Herdies: “It all comes down to curiosity,” he said. “I am just interested in hearing different stories.”
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