“We are unique and we are not part of Russia” – Deadline Disruptors

Film producers are often used to dealing with difficult situations, but for Denis Ivanov he could never have foreseen the dramatic diversion his work would take when, on February 24, Russia launched a full-scale military invasion. of his country of origin.

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The Ukrainian producer-distributor, who has long been a regular on the international festival circuit, notably with Oleg Sentsov Rhinoceros and Sergei Loznitsa Donbass, now volunteers, like many other creatives in the country, for the local territorial army. Ivanov drives or delivers ammunition, raises funds internationally, helps transport drones, whatever may be needed on a given day to help locals fight the continuing assault of Vladimir Putin’s army on the country.

Speaking via Zoom from his office in the country’s capital, Kyiv, where, at the time of the interview, Russian troops had fully withdrawn to focus on their offensive in eastern Ukraine, Ivanov seems calm and focused. He may not be fighting on the front line, but his fight is no less important: he is fighting to preserve Ukrainian culture.

“War is not just about the army,” he says. “The first thing Russians do when they arrive in a town or village is they go into the library and take out all the Ukrainian books about our history. It’s not that they’re only fighting for the land, they’re fighting against our language and our culture. The world has often seen Ukraine as part of the Russian-speaking world, but for us, we know that we are not only that. We are now trying to make everyone understand that we are unique and that we are not part of Russia.

The challenges ahead are certainly arduous, but if the past few months have shown anything to the world, it is that Ukrainians are tough, resilient and will fight hard to protect their heritage and their homeland. Ivanov’s company, Arthouse Traffic, was one of the first film companies in the country to distribute and produce arthouse cinema when it was founded in 2003. It co-produced Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi’s entry at Cannes Critics’ Week 2014. The tribe and has since released over 400 films. The company was also a founder and co-organizer of the Odessa International Film Festival from 2010 to 2013.

Now, with Russian troops out of kyiv for the time being, Ivanov and his colleagues have already begun the rebuilding process and are trying to get residents back to cinemas.

“We are trying to limit the damage because, in terms of cinemas, a lot have been destroyed,” he says. “In kyiv, one of the most modern multiplexes was hit by a missile. But we get back to work. It’s not about making money; it is about making the organization active and rebuilding it.

“Of course going to the cinema is not the first thing people spend money on, but it is important that we get on this big wheel and do our best to keep the economy going. “

Donbass, produced by Denis Ivanov.  - Credit: Film Movement/courtesy Everett Collection

Donbass, produced by Denis Ivanov. – Credit: Film Movement/courtesy Everett Collection

Film Movement/courtesy Everett Collection

During this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Ivanov will urge international sales agents to help Ukrainian distributors emancipate themselves by treating them as a separate entity from Russia, a major concern for the local sector there currently. Ivanov says 50% of the content Arthouse Traffic buys is through Russian distributors, because historically many global sales teams, especially those with smaller teams, have preferred to deal with a larger territory.

“It’s a huge challenge for independent distributors like our company because we can’t buy from Russia anymore because of the sanctions,” he says. “We absolutely have to rebuild everything, and it is a process but at the same time there is a big question mark as to how we are going to do it in the next few years because there are certain restrictions.

Film production, he says, is an even greater challenge as he and his colleagues and contemporaries continue to find resources to complete films that we were already in post-production when the war began.

For Ivanov, now is the time for Ukraine and its creators to be candid about the changes that need to be implemented to bring the country out of Russia’s shadow. Since the war broke out, the influential leader has spoken out in favor of a plan to boycott Russian films and has personally called on all international film organizations and festivals to refuse to promote or accept Russian titles .

“It’s not about boycotting Russian filmmakers because many of them are in opposition to [Vladimir] Putin,” he says. “But it’s about going against a system that needs to be rebuilt. There are many great directors who are not pro-Putin but whose films are financed by Putin’s oligarchs or the Russian Minister of Culture so they are part of the ecosystem that has seen Russia inflict a “special operation ” in Ukraine. We just want to shut down the system, not the rational filmmakers, but the narrative.

He hopes “breaking the system” will in turn encourage Russian artists to examine their own narratives, which Ivanov says are laden with stories exalting Russia’s role in World War II or plots with Russian soldiers. winner in battle.

“Russian culture also needs to reinvent itself and it will not reinvent itself if it is tied to institutions responsible for propaganda or oligarchs who support Putin,” he says.

As Cannes approaches, Ivanov, who is part of the Cannes Market producers network, and his counterparts have entered into a dialogue with the festival organizers to explain his opposition to certain decisions taken by the festival for its 75th edition. He notably raised a problem with the film of the opening night of the festival Z (Like Z) by Michel Hazanavicius, whom Ivanov called a pro-war symbol of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Even the Ukrainian Institute sent an official letter to the festival about it, because “Z” is considered a pro-war symbol in Russia. In response to this criticism, Hazanavicius changed the film’s title to Cut!.

Competition film The Wife of Tchaikovsky.  - Credit: Cannes Film Festival

Competition film The Wife of Tchaikovsky. – Credit: Cannes Film Festival

Cannes film festival

While Ivanov notes that the original name was surely a coincidence, there were huge ethical ramifications on the Russian-Ukrainian situation. Ivanov also spoke out on the inclusion of Kirill Serebrennikov Tchaikovsky’s wife, which screens in competition this year, a title backed by Roman Abramovich’s $100 million film fund, Kinoprime. Both the EU and the UK imposed sanctions on Abramovich because of his close ties to Putin.

“Cannes is an important festival and one that everyone looks to,” he says, “so how they approach these topics will impact how other festivals and delegates handle things. dominoes.”

Read Deadline's Cannes/Disruptors magazine digital edition for 2022 here.

Read Deadline’s Cannes/Disruptors magazine digital edition for 2022 here.

As Ivanov continues to fight the good fight, he is quick to dismiss any suggestion that he is one of the cultural heroes of today’s Ukrainian generation.

“My friends who are on the front line risking their lives, they are the heroes,” he says. “We’re all trying to do what we can on the other front.”

It is clear that Ivanov is proud of what Ukraine has built in terms of culture in just four decades of existence, and he, like so many of his compatriots, is dedicated to building it further. He was “overwhelmed” by the level of solidarity shown by the international film community in Ukraine, which boosted morale and determination. He urges the wider film community to support screenings of Ukrainian films in their own country and to continue to give Ukrainian voices a place in local media.

“We are grateful for all the little things because, believe me, they are very important to us,” he says. “What we don’t want to do is just be victims. Of course, we are in a very difficult situation and while we are victims of aggression, we want not only to survive but also to develop as a nation and a culture. Now is the time to find partners for new projects in order to rebuild this system of film sales as well as to deliver our point of view on the Ukrainian-Russian relationship. We don’t want anyone to say, “You are little Ukrainians. We are powerful.

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