New Ukrainian Documentaries Tell the Stories of the War
BY Georgi R. Chakarov
Volodymyr Borodianskiy and Daria Leygonie-Fialko are both well-known to the international TV community as talented television managers and producers. After Russia started its invasion of Ukraine, they joined forces with other colleagues from the Ukrainian TV industry to set up The Organization of Ukrainian Producers (OUP) and immediately started working on their first projects. Despite the ongoing war which is the main focus of the productions (six documentaries and a feature film), the first finished works will be released already this summer. Volodymyr and Daria told Georgi R. Chakarov about OUP’s slate of ongoing productions which are aimed at the international audience and their plans to further grow the organization’s activities through co-productions and partnerships.
Daria Leygonie-Fialko
Volodymyr, Daria, please tell our readers a little bit about The Organization of Ukrainian Producers (OUP) - when was it created, who are the members and what is the goal of the Association?
Volodymyr Borodianskiy: We created the Organization in the middle of March 2022, soon after the war started. We, as Ukrainian producers, took on a new challenge: not to allow the enemy to destroy us and our industry. For me personally, it was also about telling the world our own reflection about premises, conditions, and causes of the war. The films are aimed, primarily, at the Western audience, and are based on personal stories.

Seven film and TV producers with decades of experience in production and worldwide distribution, including Netflix, Amazon — Daria Leygonie-Fialko, Victor Mirsky, Alla Lypovetska, Maryna Kvasova, Iryna Zaria, Ihor Storchak, and Volodymyr Borodianskiy.

Daria Leygonie-Fialko: When the war began, all Ukrainians asked themselves one question: how can I be useful? Someone found himself volunteering, someone went to the army, and so on. We saw ourselves united and using available means to tell the world what is happening in Ukraine. Creating the OUP, we understood that the most effective and fast language for this time is documentary. Now, after almost 4 months of wartime, we are ready to discuss extension of forms and genres to continue our work, especially feature films and TV series. The subject will remain the same - we will continue to talk about the Russian military aggression and its origins, but genres and formats may be different.

How many projects are currently in the pipeline?
Volodymyr: Seven: six documentaries and one feature. Half of the docs will be completed by the middle of August. The rest are at different stages of shooting and development. Shooting of the feature film began very recently.

Could you tell us more details about the projects you are currently producing? How is the work process organized in the times of war in Ukraine?
Volodymyr: 9 Lives is a film about animals at war. A war is hard for everyone but pets are especially defendantless. And, of course, it’s about people, because pets’ lives are highly tied to their humans destinies.

Main Station of Hope tells about depths of human nature, how unexpectedly heroic a man can be. Also we see them dramatic stories of Ukrainian refugees.

Against All Odds explores how Ukraine was able to stand against the Russian troops for the first month of the war, despite the fact that experts gave us no more than 3 days.

Volodymyr Borodianskiy

Nuclear Legacy is a ‘research’ about the Budapest Memorandum. It was supposed to guarantee security for Ukraine, but in fact turned out to be just a piece of paper. One of these three ‘guarantors’ is actually an aggressor now. But it’s a film not about the past — it’s about the future. What can be a guarantee of safety in the future? Only a country’s own weapons? Will we live in a world with so much weapon it can’t stay unused. Another doc is about propaganda, we still don’t have a final title. The movie raises the questions: ‘’How can it be that TV slogans are bigger than the closest people relationship?”, “Why do these strange people want to kill us?”, “Why is it possible that the war crimes are so inhumane?” and “Who can remain unbiased and objective when misinformation, emotional manipulation and substitution of concepts become weapons of mass destruction?”. We will take an example of the Russian propaganda machine and show how it works, what stays behind, whose responsibility it is and what are the consequences. Now we are thinking of a foreign director for this film, someone who feels the Western audience.

The last one is the film Mariupol. Unlost Hope. Story of a crime through the eyes of a victim who managed to survive — Mariupol journalist Nadiia Sukhorukova.

And we started our first feature movie The Day I Met Spriderman in cooperation with the main partner of the film - large video production AMO Pictures. It’s produced by Alla Lypovetska and Marina Kvasova. The movie is based on a true story of a boy from Irpin who was separated from his parents during evacuation. Loss, hope, help and wonder will blend in the film.

The filming process doesn’t look like in peacetime: we actually plan very vaguely and significantly depend on war events.

What is your approximate budget for content and how are you raising funds?
Daria: The OUP’s initial budget was accumulated from the founders personal financial contributions. It allowed us to immediately enter development and production of the first documentaries. We will cover part of the projects exclusively with our own money, but for more expensive films, requiring more serious investments, we are now looking for international partners and customers. We already have projects where development proceeds together with foreign companies.

Volodymyr: We have two types of budget: $40-50 thousand for an episode of a standard documentary and $200-500 thousand for ‘boutique’ projects that we also have in our portfolio. So, we work with funds, pre-sell to global distributors, etc.

9 Lives

When can we expect the release of the first completed documentary works?
Volodymyr: Definitely by the end of the summer, maybe in July. Main Station of Hope, I think.

Daria, you will be attending NATPE Budapest International. What have you planned for the market?
Daria: We participate in NATPE both as a part of the Ukrainian delegation and independently, we have scheduled several personal meetings with colleagues and potential customers.

OUP recently announced a documentary project called “Ukraine that Surprised Us” for Polish directors and screenwriters. Are you planning similar initiatives with other countries?
Daria: On the one hand, with this project we would like to express special gratitude to Poles for their unprecedented support for Ukraine. On the other hand, it’s interesting for us to hear their point of view. Now the whole world is constantly asking Ukrainians: how are you? But on February 24, 2022 life changed not only in Ukraine. Millions of refugees fled to Europe, mainly through Poland, and most of them found shelters there. That’s why we would like to find out what our closest neighbors feel and think, how they saw this war and us, Ukrainians.

We will start with Poland, see how it goes, and then will think about other countries. But I can say for sure that we do not limit ourselves in ideas, so any unexpected projects and collaborations are possible.

How are decisions taken within the Association and do you get support from the state and/or international partners?
Volodymyr: We make decisions about new projects and their financing once a week by a simple majority of votes, it’s easy for 7 people. All co-founders act as curators of some OUP films (they choose themselves) and provide all necessary to create high quality content.

We all work with distribution, promo, raising funds, every team member uses his/her own network, possibilities, strengths. For example, Daria and Ihor Strochak are involved in negotiations with foreign partners and promo on film markets. Alla Lypovetska communicates with donors.

The OUP doesn’t have specific plans to work with the state but we are looking for international partners. First of all, we make projects for foreign audiences, so an outside view is welcome. Then we try to attract additional funding and increase production capacity.

Our task is to create a pool of films, sell them, earn money and invest them in the next films. Co-founders have no goal to share the profit in the first year, but we want to increase OUP funds from seven million hryvnas to two hundred million, and reinvest them into filming.

Main Station of Hope

How do you select projects for funding by the Association?
Volodymyr: Quickly (smiles). We selected our first six projects in less than a month from the launch, decided on funding, and started shooting. In peacetime, it would take 4-5 months. Technically it’s pitching with a 50%+1 voting of the OUP co-founders. We all understand the docs should be interesting to people in Europe, the United States, Australia. Therefore, when we choose topics, first of all, we think about the Western viewers.

How do you plan to extend OUP’s activities in the future?
Volodymyr: I can see even more events worthy of being filmed. Defense of Kyiv. The tragedy of Bucha and Irpin. Azovstal defense. Volunteer movement. The war gives us many heroic stories that must be screened. We only have to win.
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