The President of Odesa International Film Festival (OIFF) Viktoriya Tigipko shared with The Odessa Journal her views about Ukrainian cinematography, the new format of the most glamorous event of Ukraine and the meaning of the city of Odessa for the Festival.
You saved OIFF in these hard times of international lockdown, whilst other cinema festivals in the world were suspended or switched into online format. What was your key of success?
OIFF is not only the festival, it’s also the platform, which connects Ukrainian film industry with international film industry, the showcase of Ukrainian film industry have been done since 2010. Historically we had two film festivals: one international and one national. But we started to put them together in 2010, because we could not find enough movies to complete an Ukrainian programme. So we made a main international programme, choosing 120 important foreign movies. The national competition was a kind of second rate, because there was not enough production in Ukraine. But now, in spite of the Covid pandemic, we can see the quality and the potential of Ukrainian cinema growing.
What about Ukrainian movies in the world? Are they successful? How juries and public are receiving them?
In 2010, the quality and prizes in the international films, the acceptance of Ukrainian professionals and the winners is growing exponentially. This is why this year, in spite of the Covid, we decided to refocus, after 10 years, to Ukrainian national competition. This year we have Ukrainian competition plus of course some international movies. We had two gala premieres, national and international, so that we preserved the major parameters of OIFF and the participants could see both the top quality movie worldwide together with of the Ukrainian film industry, the quality of which is growing.
Which new initiatives are particularly worth to be underlined?
This year, for the first time, we decided to have the closing ceremony in Potemkin Stairs, with more than 10-15.000 people. It is another good idea, which will be repeated in the next years as well. All of those you come to the Odessa Film Festival, viewers and visitors, tourists and local Ukrainians, they will know who are the heroes of this film industry, the directors, producers and actors. It is important that they know about this industry, because this is a gap. You do not know who are these people behind the scene. OIFF is a good place to show them. The tradition that we started from this year is to close the Festival at the Potemkin stairs. After the ceremony the show of an old black and white movie, this year is the 100 years anniversary of a Charlie Chaplin’s movie, is a tradition. The idea is to show the masterpieces of the jubilee of the current year of some special actor or institute. Basically, we saved the same standards of OIFF, we changed the format into Ukrainian movies, we do the closing ceremony and awards on the Potemkin Stairs, to create more PR for OIFF, and actually is surprising that, this year, in digital media for the opening ceremony, we had 20 million views. I think that the figure will be growing.
Which are some important future project in progress within the OIFF format?
Generally, this creative industry is a very specific industry, so it would remain, because it’s all about creativity. Many professional will be digitalized, automatized, dealing with technology, new services and duplications, and we are in these changes. But we also know that artificial intelligence cannot be creative as the human being. That’s why there are these creative professions in cinema. Film productions are populated by young people and we bet a lot on young people joining the industry. But we would like to give them the opportunity to learn their profession better. That’s why, this year, we decided to launch a film school, for practice, first, and theory, second. A learning of practical techniques with a theory in the process. They will be learning from top professionals, national and international ones; we will invite them for a short time, from one months to three months courses. The students will start the practice and after they will present and discuss their projects. I think this is the right answer to the demand from the cinema industry on how the learning process should be changed, because, unfortunately, all the education system is broken. The period the students will be studying will be 2-3 time less, compared to the standard university education, but with the same quality. This is important for the industry. Plus, we will focus a lot on technical skills. We have seen real problems when foreign professionals come to Ukraine, because they like our country, but they do not understand why people do not speak English; it is hard to communicate to them. Moreover, people do not know the basic and advanced software applications, etc. That’s why we are hyper focused to fill these gaps.
Which role business events play during the Film Festival?
We have started many years ago to organise business events like kino market or film industry summer cinema school. Then, other business events like iClub, meet up with people from 70 countries right here, investors, entrepreneurs, to invest in creative and social impact projects, creating the special networking vibes during the festival, which is extremely important because there is a need of talents, and talents are important for companies. Talent cannot just be watched, it should be accompanied by business. That’s why we like to have more and more business events during the festival. The cinema and this new audio-visual industry get a lot of interest from the investors’ community, but they have to know each other, and if there is an interesting opportunity, why not? For the Ukrainian companies, which used the party moments to discuss, to do professional networking and conferences online, this is an amazing opportunity. For example, our event iClub on the 21st of August is aimed to attract people and investors supporting not only technology companies but also social development, as myself, for example. We are investing, doing business in technology, in venture capital, supporting start-ups, globally and locally in Ukraine. On the other side, we created among business owners this sentiment that there are two sides of business: real business from one side and from another side you have to do social business. OIFF integrates different professional business events, meet-ups. breakfasts, so that people can learn how this business is.
Let’s imagine you are starting up a new festival, which sphere would you choose?
I do not think I would choose another sector because sometimes, more it is not good. It is important to be focused. And this is such a complex industry, and you see how it is transforming: from theatres and cinema people start to have access to movies through streaming platforms, home TV, technical equipment to create cinema at home or in the offices, it is very interesting to see that the industry is changing and tech is part of that, and it is also interesting for investing in spin-offs of companies connected with this sector. As a fund we are also investing and supporting social impact activity. And this Festival creates huge opportunities.
What is Odessa from the eyes of Victoria? Your personal relation with the city.
Actually, Odessa has a very interesting history. My mother-in-law is originating from Odessa, so my answer, maybe, is also for family connections. Odessa’s history influences a lot of processes and the life of the people. This international vibes since Odessa started is really interesting and important; that’s why for an international festival this is the right place to be. From the history, Greek, Turks, German, Polish, British, Italians, all this mixture of different nationalities were here in Odessa. The history of Odessa as a free city and “Porto Franco”, this free spirit of Odessa, is an obvious aspect for us. Plus, the experience of Odessa Cinema Studios, since Soviet times, and the personalities creating films in Odessa. And also the people are different here: their behaviour, their mood, they joke a lot, maybe for the sunny weather, IQ level of the people is very interesting here. People are smart even in the street, with smart jokes, which is makes the city very attractive. Even the excursions on international and historical Odessa are different: the Jewish tradition, gangsters history. Odessa is special, really different. Because of this historical roots, professionals from the film industry worldwide know better Odessa than Kyiv and Odessa is the place where they are willing to come, more than any other city.
What can Odessa do to improve the success of next film festivals?
We have everything. The city is very much helpful. Also, it might be surprising, but when we do something for the sake of culture and cinema, we receive no negative answers from the government. Since 2010, obviously, over the years mayors changed, governors of Odessa region changed, but I have to thank all of them; they equally supported and did really their best to support the Odessa Film Festival. Notwithstanding their political differences, they supported impactful and positive projects, all the same. As for the local team, they proved to be always professional. I think we will continue like that for the future. Format will be changing, but creativity will be always on demand for a long period of time. This is something that cannot be beaten by technology. Creativity is the queen of the industry. That’s all the Festival is about: finding those jewels, top professionals, who feel the sentiments of the people, to create the cinema of the future.