Last film by Mykhailo Illienko The Firecrosser, released in 2012, evoke a wide response. Some enthusiastically spoke about the revival of national cinema, others skeptically shrugged their shoulders, there also were those who strongly opposed it. But the audience voted for the film with their wallets going to the cinema to watch it. The Firecrosser was awarded the Grand Prix of the Third Kyiv International Film Festival and the Ukrainian Oscar Committee even decided to nominate the film for the prestigious film award for the “best foreign language film” last summer. As you know already, the film did not have success at the ceremony. But, a good beginning is half the battle. The aftertaste remains.
Illienko was not concerned about not walking along the red carpet to receive the award. He had no time for that. Around the same time as the legendary statuette was awarded to its winners, the film director began working on a new film with a descriptive name Toloka based on Taras Shevchenko’s poem U Tiiei Kateryny Khata na Pomosti (Kateryna Had a House on a Platform). Illienko invited journalists to the first session of film shooting to present the long-awaited project (Illienko got the idea of making a film based on Shevchenko’s writing about 15 years ago but at that time it did not cause big interest among the cinematic leadership).
As it often happens in unpredictable cinema world, on the first day of shooting at the National Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine in Pyrohiv the final scene was shot.
An unusual company was walking down the dazzling white hill, exchanging replicas that were not reaching our ears. We saw recognizable characters from Shevchenko’s poetry, revolutionary mariners and soldiers, characters dressed in the 21st century outfits. Besides, there were Santa Claus and Snow Maiden, maskers with antlers, hockey players and bobsledders, a couple of Goths and newlyweds, an angel with wings, and a priest. There were also many others.
While the author of the film rehearsed a scene, journalists were lost in guesses about what metaphor will be used in the final scene of Toloka.
Chair person of the foundation “Velyka Rodyna” Vira Ulianchenko commented the interest of the foundation in the film: “We are engaged in a large-scale event called ‘Shevchenko-200.’ Cinema is the first stage. It is logical since cinema is the art of masses. Talented film can attract large numbers of people and without didacticism to remind about the genius of Ukrainian people.
Once Illienko got free, he made things more clear: “This poem by Taras Shevchenko is one of the shortest, just 67 lines long. It can be written on one’s palm as a crib note, but poet’s lines will feel cramped on a palm. ‘Life lines’ spring off the page, break the boundaries of time. The plot of Toloka covers 14 most important stages of the history of Ukraine – more than 400 years. A part of the film will be shot here in Pyrohiv in a real home that belonged to Shevchenko’s relatives (now it’s a museum exhibit) and where he often came. In my opinion, family home is vital to any man. Perhaps, everyone has a home like that. One under straw, reed, or some other kind of roof. I do have one myself. I was not born there but that’s the place where I come from. Even today I often think about grandpa Taras and grandma Nadia...
“In the final scene that was filmed today you saw all the characters which for several centuries lived in this house. Those that were raised, kept warm, and sheltered here. In theater there is a term ‘all come out to bow.’ The final of Toloka is our film bow to the viewers and to Shevchenko’s home. I really want to pay tribute to this place and make a film that would be alive.”
Illienko stressed that despite the plot deviations “not a single comma was misplaced” in Shevchenko’s poem. The main goal of the author and director of the film is to “throw a bridge to the present” and by doing so to create a sort of cinematic “cover” for the poem of Kobzar.
The film’s title is a bright Ukrainian word “toloka.” Toloka is a powerful symbol that had sacred meaning for our ancestors. It is an ancient Slavic tradition: toloka gathered to do some important urgent peasant work where many hands were needed – during harvesting, clearing woods, building homes, or in case of a fire. Toloka meant voluntary and free work for common good. But, besides the practical sense, there is a higher purpose in such meetings that unites people stronger than any religious ceremonies – Miracle of Resurrection: in front of people’s eyes, for example, a new home appears on the ashes of a burnt one. Toloka is a unique symbol of family, society, and Ukraine salvation. It is an example of people’s consolidation for good purpose. “And even if I would have had an argument with one of you today, I would have come to toloka the next day anyway,” joked Illienko. “In present time this wonderful tradition is being revived. For several years already I have been coming to tolokas in the village of Lehedzyne. An amazing person, a teacher by profession and filmmaker by vocation Vlad Chabaniuk lives there. He is one of the best experts on toloka in Ukraine. By the way, the residents of Lehedzyne have already helped the film: they cut enough reed to make a roof during the main filming stage that will take place in summer.”
Along with the main host of the filming, representatives of the State Agency for Film Making of Ukraine and the charity foundation “Velyka Rodyna” took part in the improvised press conference in the cold near Shevchenko’s home. The film Toloka is made by the Illienko Film Company with financial assistance of these organizations.
Chair person of the foundation “Velyka Rodyna” Vira Ulianchenko commented the interest of the foundation in the film: “We are engaged in a large-scale event called ‘Shevchenko-200.’ Cinema is the first stage. It is logical since cinema is the art of masses. Talented film can attract large numbers of people and without didacticism to remind about the genius of Ukrainian people. However, Toloka is not the only project that we work with. For example, presentation of a unique work by Yevhen Stankovych Shevchenko’s Passion will be held on March 10. I would say that it will be a world premiere, since for a long time there has been no other event in musical life of Ukraine that would be as grandiose.”
The first day of shooting Toloka finished on toloka in an atmosphere that is usual for such gatherings: with treats and true folk festivities. In fact, there was no actual dancing or singing, but the real hot soup, homemade plum liqueur, and vodka with splendid bacon were savored by shivering journalists with great pleasure.