The new film by classic of Ukrainian cinema Kira Muratova, Eternal Return, has come out in Ukrainian theaters. The film’s producer Oleh Kokhan speaks about the festival history of the film, his relations with the director, and popularity of Ukrainian cinema abroad, as well as the role of producer in present-day moviemaking process.
“TALENTED PEOPLE NEVER HAVE SIMPLE CHARACTERS”
Oleh, Two in One, released seven years ago, was the first film which showed credits with the name of young Ukrainian producer Kokhan, hardly known at the time. It was directed by classic of Ukrainian cinema, talented Kira Muratova (who, they say, has anything but simple character). Weren’t you afraid to take up such project?
“Apart from fears and worries, which I naturally felt then, my huge interest was the crucial factor. I have always liked Kira Muratova as a director. Indisputably, I have heard about her majestic character. And I cannot say that the years of our cooperation were definitely joyful, good neighborly, or partner relations. At times, their amplitude ranged from love to hatred. Even today, while discussing working problems, there is some anxiety present, but the aim in achieving the result always attracts and intrigues.
“It does not mean, of course, that from the beginning I set a task before myself to work only with complicated directors. I understand very well the nature of the so-called complicatedness of character of creative people. In my opinion, having a simple character and taking up director’s work will for sure mean a failure. Some people, successful in their profession, are more sociable, others are restrained. Someone is openly benevolent, another one is an introvert. But all talented people are unique. Who is simple? Otar Iosseliani? Roman Balaian? Or, probably, Serhii Loznytsia?
“Kira Muratova is demanding to herself and to people. Both professionally, and personally. And this is captivating. This is enchanting. I don’t want to generalize, but modern technical and technological possibilities allow dull commonplace mediocrities to hide behind PR, paid publications, and unexpressive video editing. Muratova is so self-sufficient that even without extra maneuvering she has things to tell the audience. Therefore it is extremely interesting to communicate and work with her.”
ETERNAL RETURN IMPRESSED EVERYONE, FROM THE DIRECTOR’S BUFFS TO HER OPPONENTS
How did you meet Kira Muratova?
“We met in Kyiv. I will remind that the project One in Two was planned as a Ukrainian-Russian cooperation. Igor Kalenov, who previously made with Muratova the films Passions and Chekhov’s Motifs, was supposed to become one of the producers. Actually, it was Igor who announced our meeting: he was not present there. There was a casting: Renata Litvinova and Bohdan Stupka came. On the same day I met Kira Muratova.
“Today, having made four projects with Muratova, I can say for sure that her entire creative work clearly corresponds to philosopher Merab Mamardashvili’s main message – ‘My experience is atypical.’ He says, to philosophize is to be able to have your own worldview. This is not about your background (say, I have read all works by Plato, so I can now contemplate on philosophical themes!), but an ability to think independently. Without negating, but arguing with the same Plato, defend one’s own standpoint. For individual special world, which differs from others, is born in the argument. Like Kira Muratova’s world is born. That is why she never follows the trodden path in her works. An example of this is her latest work, Eternal Return. I think, having shot this film, Muratova has impressed, surprised, and stunned everyone – her admirers and those who do not consider her their director.”
ETERNAL RETURN IS A FILM BEYOND COMPETITION
This is true. At first glance, Eternal Return is a simple ironical comedy. You watch it once and get surprised – it turns out, Kira Muratova is able to shoot films of this genre, too, – and put a period. But Eternal Return did not let me go for several months (I saw it for the first time at the Odesa Film Festival). I specially went to the Kyiv premiere and revealed a great number of exquisite details and meanings in the film, and it seems to me, I have understood why Kira Muratova invented this intellectual rebus. Once again, she turned out to be deeper and cleverer than us, when in the film finale you understand that it was a casting, and how many intrigues, mysteries, and problems are hidden in the art of shooting films. Eternal Return has been on the screens of movie theaters for a week. Did it have a festival story?
“Eternal Return does have a festival story, which continues. The film was launched at the Rome Film Festival: the first, very interesting meeting with the audience, specialists, film critics, and the press took place there. The film was received very warmly. Maybe it was the first time, when the international audience’s reception of Muratova’s work was so definitely warm. I mean the films in which I cooperated with Muratova. After all, the pictures Two in One and Melody for a Street Organ have certain nuances that are not always understood even by professional foreign critics. I don’t want to say pompous words about eternal topics, but here, in (excuse me for tautology) Eternal Return, there is a construction of human relations, which is clear for all the nations.
“It was followed by a succession of film festivals, Rotterdam, Kustendorf [Emir Kusturica’s festival in Serbia. – Author], Mexico City. In Rotterdam Eternal Return launched the retrospective of Muratova’s films, later several gala premieres took places, and the film many times became an opening or closing film for prestigious film forums. Organizers of the festivals invited Eternal Return namely for this, because they thought that the film is special and often does not fit in the concept of competition programs of the film reviews. I don’t deny that the film is indeed special, so, we decided to continue to take part in the festivals on the same ground. Among the professional victories, we have won only the prize of the Russian Film Academy ‘Nika’ in the category ‘Best Film of CIS and Baltic states.’”
“WITHOUT STATE POLICY OF PROTECTIONISM UKRAINIAN CINEMA WILL REMAIN UNKNOWN”
Over eight years of work in the profession, you have produced 12 projects. The names of the directors is impressive: Kira Muratova, Otar Iosseliani, Roman Balaian, Serhii Loznytsia, Aleksandr Mindadze. Are our noted masters known in Europe and America? Are their names important only in the post-Soviet space?
“Of course, professional community knows and appreciates the works of these masters. I will give you only one example. In Cannes, after watching of Serhii Loznytsia’s film My Joy head of the jury, well-known Hollywood actor Benicio Del Toro came up to us. Having mentioned Oleksandr Dovzhenko, he said that he knew the creative work of Kira Muratova and spoke with excitement about Loznytsia’s film, using the metaphors I cannot retell: that was poetry!
“However, while I was presenting these films at hundreds of festivals, I analyzed why some authors, maybe less talented than those we are speaking about today, are known better. And I made a conclusion: the very fact of talented, brilliant cinema phenomenon as Kira Muratova, for example, is not enough to make her name token abroad. This is simply impossible without a strong policy of protectionism, activity of the state and special structures clearly directed at popularization of Ukrainian cinema. We cannot one by one compete with Western PR campaigns of the films and their authors. No matter how cool, even genius, projects we have, unless there is a systematic daily work, aimed at promotion of our cinema on the world market, the situation we observe today won’t change. There will be some single sparks, the getting to know process, but in order to take hold in the minds of European and world audiences (as well as distributors, professionals, and film critics) one needs to lead for years, decades a purposeful work aimed at popularization of Ukrainian cinema. In his time Andrii Khalpakhchi moved this situation from deadlock by organizing a Ukrainian film foundation. We need to hold festivals of Ukrainian films abroad on an annual basis, in all big cities, where both the classics of Ukrainian cinema, and young filmmakers should be presented. Only in this case will we be able to nail down the success we have achieved, form a clear idea in the minds of foreigners about who we are, how we live and think, and what we are able to do in creative work.”
“A PRODUCER MUST BE ABLE TO LEAD A DIALOGUE WITH THE DIRECTOR NOT ONLY ABOUT FINANCES OR MARKETING”
About 20 years ago the profession “producer” was mentioned only in the context of Western cinema. Today it has achieved top positions in the cinema of the post-Soviet space. As a person who chose it from dozens of others and ate a sack of salt in it while mastering the fundamentals of the profession, explain to me, what, in your opinion, a producer should be like to be successful? A caring breadwinning father for the creative group or a cruel inspector, who says: step left, step right – and I will deprive you of honorarium?
“You can often hear from classic directors, masters (especially older generation), for example, what to do, we need to accept the fact that the time of producers’ cinema has come. This is a totally wrong and harmful position. You don’t need to put up with anything! You need to respect the phenomenon of producer’s cinema and go beyond the limits of fatal idea that producer is a butcher, a moneybag, an arrogant windbag in a hat and with a cigar, etc. Producer is a person who is responsible for two major processes, which take place in the sphere of moviemaking: creative and commercial. Basically, he is the only one responsible for the destiny of the film. I say so not only because it is my profession. This is an undisputed fact. Another thing is that a producer must be an adequate, versatile, developed personality, able to lead a dialogue on equal terms not only in the professional sphere (about finances, marketing, advertising, promoting the film for distribution and to the market), but orient freely in creative questions. While communicating with the producer, the interlocutor must understand at once that this person is knowledgeable about dramaturgy, fundamentals of cameraman’s work, and editing. Of course, it does not mean that he can write a brilliant script overnight, shoot a movie masterfully, and edit it energetically! (Laughing.) When there will be at minimum ten, or even better several tens, professionals of such a class, their equipollent dialogue with film creators will be the first proof that producers’ time has started in this area.”
How many copies of Eternal Return have been distributed? What countries, except for Ukraine, will see the new film by Kira Muratova?
“We have printed 125 copies. The audiences of Russia, Belarus, and Baltic States will see it, and probably in several months, Europe, too.”
We have already said that the film is special, even for Kira Muratova’s creative work. You must have counted for certain audience while making it?
“Naturally. This is professional. Indisputably, the basic audience is people who take interest in Kira Muratova’s creative work. Another layer is the buffs of the actors who play in the film. And the third category is the narrow audience of connoisseurs of auteur art-house cinema.
“Apparently, we do not expect people who are fond of Harry Potter or entertainment movies of any kind, will come to Eternal Return. But even if some of them get out of their minds and come to the cinema, it may happen so that the unusual film will be interesting for them, and they will discover director Kira Muratova for themselves. It happens so.”
“IN YOUTH, I HAD THREE PASSIONS: SOCCER, CINEMA, AND LITERATURE”
Your debut in the profession was non-standard: loud and extravagant. Everyone immediately got to know about you, started to speak about you, and directors started to look narrowly at you. If it happened otherwise, who would you become?
“As far as I remember, I was playing soccer since childhood. I took up soccer professionally. I dreamed to become a famous player. I loved to read and was fond of cinema. Soccer fell down. Although I continue to read a lot, I haven’t become a writer as you can see. (Laughing.) Cinema remained. There was no fourth option.”
What team do you cheer for?
“I cheer for soccer. Therefore, remaining a fan and devotee of Kyiv Dynamo, I respect such phenomenon as Donetsk Shakhtar.”
Have you ever thought of uniting three of your youth hobbies: soccer, cinema, and literature? Become a producer of a sports story?
“Let’s wait and see.”