The 12th Odesa International Film Festival was held on August 14 to 21, 2021 in its off-line version. It focused on the Ukrainian national cinema as a tribute to the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence. From 2015 onwards one can witness a renaissance of the Ukrainian cinema that was definitely reenergized amidst a growing national production, flocking spectators to the theatres. This phenomenon is expressed in various genres, and with a growing state support. The only OIFF competition program was the National Competition: six feature and eight short films. They have been chosen from 250 submitted films, of which more than 60 were feature films. A total of 65 films were shown in the competition and non-competition programs of the festival. The total audience of the OIFF amounted to 100,000 viewers.
Closing Gala ceremony took place for the first time at the legendary Potemkin Stairs that is known not only as a best known sign of Odesa, but also as a cinema symbol. The steps were made famous in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent film Battleship Potemkin. In 2015, during the 6th OIFF, the European Film Academy put a commemorative plate on the stairs, which indicates that the Potemkin staircase is a memorable place for cinema. Actually, the Odesa Festival proposes for the public its open air performance every year, during its 12 years history. This time it was a screening of the famous The Kid by Charlie Chaplin, which this year marks its 100th anniversary, and it was accompanied by the Odesa Symphony Orchestra. The open air performance was held even in 2020, in the time of the on-line OIFF edition. However the idea to enforce it by the Closing Gala, red carpet and awards – was very successful and loved by the Odesa public.
The winners received awards for best film, best direction, best acting and the main prize of the OIFF – Grand Prix as a public choice, and of course and first of all two FIPRESCI prizes, that were given at the very beginning of the Gala. It was an honor and pleasure together with the FIPRESCI Jury members: Bojidar Manov (Bulgaria) and Diana Martirosyan (Armenia) to award a short film Dad’s Sneakers (Papyni krosivky, 2021) by Olha Zhurba and a feature film Blindfold (Iz zavyazanymy ochyma, 2020) by Taras Dron.
The FIPRESCI Jury in Odesa was unanimous for a short film award with a National Jury that gave Golden Duke, the highest OIIF award, to Dad’s Sneakers. The director Olha Zhurba was trained as a documentary filmmaker at the Kyiv National Karpenko-Kary University of Theatre, Cinema and Television. She worked at the TV, shot a number of creative commercials, and a long term documentary project. The story of Dad’s Sneakers unfolds on the day of the departure of 13-year-old Sasha from a boarding school for children deprived of parental care to an American foster family. The director, with her documentary accuracy, subtly and expressively shows the experiences of a teenager in preparation to meet his foster mother and leave the country. Non-professional teenage actors play their roles perfectly thanks to the professionalism of the director. One can assume that the film will find a response in different countries around the world: this simple story is clear and touches many in those countries that give their children for adoption, and in those that have courage to adopt them.
The national short film competition included two animated films: Unnecessary Things (2021), directed by Dmytro Lisenbatr, and Tiger is Strolling Around (2021), by Anastasia Falileieva. One tells the story about a robot and a man, another about a tiger and a girl. It’s not easy for the animated films to compete with feature stories, however, these professionally made works showed a variety of Ukrainian cinema in both genres and storytelling. This is also a good marker for the Ukrainian animation school. One of its maîtres, Yevhen Syvokon was honored by the 12th OIFF with a Honorary Golden Duke for his contribution to cinema.
Nikon Romanchenko, a director of a short film Leopolis Night (2021) was honored by the National Jury by the Golden Duke as a best director for his amiable story about a by-night relaxed promenade of three actresses and a guy, whom they met after their spectacle. The director also played a main character in his film. Maria Stoianova presented the shortest of the shorts: an elegant five minute length visual essay The Second Wave (2021) laden with philosophical musings about life, his grandfather and Odesa.
However, the majority of the short film program, to begin with Dad’s Sneakers the FIPRESCI Prize winner, has their determined social messages. Run, Tanya, Run (2021) by Sofiia Polishchuk with famous Ukrainian actor Oleksij Gorbunov tells the story about a girl Tanya who definitely needs to meet herself. Maybe it would be possible one day when she is fired from her job on her birthday. The film Good Boy (2021) directed by Mariia Ponomarova is also about social and philosophical reflections: should one take care of others and be a good boy as a main character, or think more about his own. And last but definitely not least is a film Maria – a mélange of social drama and film noir about sexual abuse done by two maîtres of the Ukrainian cinema, director Vladlen Odudenko and DoP Valentyn Vasianovych. Both of them have been previously awarded with various national and international prizes. The film would definitely be useful in order to convince the parliaments to sign and ratify Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
To sum up: the short film competition program of the 12th Odesa International Film Festival was interesting, diverse and eloquent.
Edited by Savina Petkova
© FIPRESCI 2021