The staff photographer and I arrived at a bad time, when director Mykola Mashchenko was mad as hell that the shooting was not going well. The pyrotechnic specialists couldn’t get their explosions right, and the stuntmen on horseback were riding in a spritely fashion, but try as they might, they couldn’t fall beautifully, as though they were being mowed down. On top of it, the wind was constantly changing direction, so every time the director of photography had the scene right, and the pyrotechnic specialists were about to light the bonfires and torches, the smoke would start billowing in the opposite direction, as though to spite the crew. We looked around while the scenes were being repeated and Mashchenko was showing how the scene should be shot.
Mamayeva Sloboda is a small plot of land featuring Ukrainian architecture and daily life, located in Vidradnyi Park in Kyiv. It is a miniature copy of Pyrohove, with charming village homes, Cossack manors, a church, mill, and two ponds. This settlement started being built four years ago. It is an attempt to recreate a piece of the ancient Dnipro region. At the same time it is a dendrological park with flora and fauna, on whose premises is an architectural complex dating to the mid-18 th century Hetmanate. On the pond a duck family floats by. The water is so clear you can see a turtle the size of your palm; newly-hatched fish dart here and there. It is beautiful. It is the month of May, and the sun is up, bright and hot. You feel like lying on the grass, relaxing and enjoying the sound of bird singing, but Mashchenko’s strident voice prevents us from relaxing: “Attention! Ready! Action!”
This production is Mashchenko’s “baby.” In 2002, when The Day wrote about the launch of the Bohdan-Zinoviy Khmelnytsky project, Mashchenko admitted that it had taken him 10 years to crystallize the idea. The project was difficult to carry out for a number of reasons. It needed a big budget (there are lots of crowd scenes, costumes, and battle scenes) and the Dovzhenko Studio was not really functioning at the time. Then there were changes in the Ukrainian leadership, and Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, who had launched the project, was dismissed from his post.
So they had to work in fits and spurts, shooting scenes here and there, whenever they received money. Then Mashchenko resigned as head of the Dovzhenko Studio, explaining his decision by his desire to finish the production and focus on creative work. He offered Viktor Prykhodko as his replacement. The old-timers at the studio refused to accept the new head. A change in priorities took place. There were scandals, petitions, and lawsuits.
Today the studio is proudly known as the Dovzhenko National Feature Film Studio and is under the able guidance of director general I. Stavchansky. The noisy scandals have been laid to rest, but the staff is still dissatisfied and upset, because no matter how you look at it, the studio is idle. Not a single feature film is being made today. Life is busy in those studios that are making television serials, musicals, and film debuts.
The Dovzhenko Studio had received new equipment. The staff should have been happy, except the camera didn’t have all its parts because it was bought through intermediaries. Someone must have overlooked something, so the end result was: “We have what we have.” This is one small illustration of the thorny path of the Bohdan-Zinoviy Khmelnytsky film.
Mashchenko has been shooting a battle scene at Mamaieva Sloboda, reproducing historical events — the lull in the hostilities between the Poles and the Cossacks had ended. Forces were being regrouped, whereupon the Rzeczpospolita resumed its attacks on Ukraine. Once again smoke and fumes of war roiled above the peaceful homes of Ukraine.
Two versions of Bohdan-Zinoviy Khmelnytsky are being made: one is a two-part motion picture and the other is a four-episode TV serial. The film was shot by several photographers. The first was Serhiy Bordeniuk. Now it is Oleksandr Chorny. They have shot on location at Mamaieva Sloboda and several large scenes in the studio. Mashchenko says it is better to use new actors whose faces have not often appeared on screen.
He offered the part of Hetman Khmelnytsky to Volodymyr Abazopulo, an actor from the Ivan Franko Theater. He is an excellent fencer and is adept at both sabers and swords. He staged all the fighting scenes in the legendary production of The Aeneid and for many years has been teaching the Franko cast all kinds of stunts and stage tricks.
A few years ago Abazopulo started having throat pains, and he had an operation. It was unsuccessful and he lost his voice, the death knell for an actor. But Volodymyr was a man of strong willpower, and he did not quit his profession. He is still active in the company and teaching, and he works in films. In Beniuk Khostikoyev’s private theatrical production Of Men and Mice he plays the part of the black man, who has narrowly escaped a lynching. The stunt was engineered by the stage director, Vitaliy Malakhov, in order to justify the character’s mechanical, microphone-amplified voice. At the Ivan Franko Theater Abazopulo has acted in The Master and Margarita, Inspector General, and Romeo and Juliet. In the Khmelnytsky film he does all his own stunts, but Mashchenko will use another actor to do his voiceover. The film is almost ready and should be in theaters by the end of the year.