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Ukraine’s short film guru finds dark side of reality

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Aug. 2, 2012, 10:57 p.m. | None — by Daryna Shevchenko

Myroslav Slaboshoytskyi (pointing) directs the shooting of his latest film “Nuclear Waste,” about everyday life in the highly radioactive exclusion zone around the Chornobyl nuclear power plant that exploded in 1986.
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Daryna Shevchenko

He is not yet a Lars von Trier, but he is inching closer to the accomplished Danish film director and screenwriter. Myroslav Slaboshyptskyi’s sunny disposition and sense of humor clash with what critics say is his strongest side – his depressing, yet courageous ideas. 

“I try to talk about reality, and preferably frankly,” says the director who took part in 27 film competitions, including the prestigious Berlinale Film Festival. He even won a prize at Portugal’s Algarve Festival.

His two best-known films abroad depict Ukraine’s darker side. The first, “Diagnosis,” is a film about Ukrainian young drug addicts. “Deafness” portrays the life of deaf people. Despite its tiny budget of just 300 euros, “Deafness” was the director’s bridge to international recognition. “This film was shown even in Antarctica,” Slaboshpytskyi says.

“Of course you have to raise problematic questions to get enlisted at world famous festivals, but that’s not a panacea,” he said. Only good films can make it through the selection process, he added, and festival juries value fresh and bold ideas over trendy topics.

According to critics, his latest film “Nuclear Waste” deserved its place in the lineup of the famous Locarno Film Festival. It described life in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone, the highly radioactive 30-kilometer radius around the closed nuclear plant that exploded in 1986. 

“The movie script took up less than a page, but the energy of it could be felt after each word,” said Ukrainian film critic and famous director Volodymyr Voytenko.

He added that “even though Myroslav Slaboshpytsky still doesn’t do feature films, only shorts, he is quite famous among art house cinema spectators.” Voytenko has been following Slaboshpytskyi’s career since his student years and sees him as a leader of the so-called social film movement in Ukraine. 

“He is shooting the everyday reality happening around us,” said Voytenko. “Our reality is not TV news. It is the drama of life. Myroslav [Slaboshpytskyi] is interesting first of all for his social view on cinema.”
Talent alone is not enough to become a successful director.

“The fight starts right after you graduate,” said the 37-year-old Slaboshpytskyi. “One can’t go and work in an office to become a film director. You should find money, sponsors, people and start filming.”

For Slaboshpytskyi, the fight was particularly tough. After several attempts in Ukraine he had to leave for St. Petersburg because of a conflict with Hanna Chmil, the former head of the state cinema department.

He spent seven years in Russia before coming back to Ukraine, working on advertising campaigns and mainstream cinema. “I gradually gained weight while filming a commercial video for a weight loss center,” he jokes, recalling the past years. 

Returning to art house cinema means more irregular paychecks, even though some can be substantial. “This profession is too unstable to say it feeds me,” Slaboshpytskyi said.

Technology is changing the business, however, as prices of high quality equipment continue to fall. This reduces upfront investment for directors and thus the risk of losing money. “Film stock is almost dead,” said Slaboshpytskyi, who last used photographic film on “Diagnosis,” which cost $35,000.

The state of national cinema has also improved, despite creeping authoritarianism, Slaboshpytskyi added. Grants have become more accessible and numerous, he explained.

“Now when Ukraine is losing its last freedoms and chances to join the European Union, you would not believe it, but for the first time in the 20 years since independence the situation in filmmaking is promising,” he said.

Kyiv Post staff writer Daryna Shevchenko can be reached at shevchenko@kyivpost.com 

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