Ukraine election won’t affect film biz

Yanukovych's term won't impact industry

It’s business as usual for the film industry in Ukraine after the country’s political shift to the East with the election of a Russophile new president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych narrowly beat Orange Revolution co-leader Yulia Tymoshenko in a contest many saw as a verdict on the five years since the former Soviet republic elected a Westward-leaning democratic president in Viktor Yushchenko.

The political capital gained by Yushchenko and Tymoshenko during the heady days of the peaceful Orange Revolution in November 2004 — when Tymoshenko’s trademark plaited blonde hair became an icon of the times — was rapidly lost in political infighting and intrigue. Yushchenko, elected president in December 2004, saw his popularity slump from ratings as high as 83% then to just 3% recently.

But although the election of Yanukovych may signal a shift back to influence for the Russian-speaking, industrially dominant east of the country, it is likely to have little impact on the film industry, Andriy Khalpakhchi, director of the Ukrainian Cinema Foundation and artistic director of Kiev’s Molodist film festival, said.

“Yanukovych is not a cultural man, but he has some interesting people around him, although it is not yet clear who the new head of culture will be,” Kalpakhchi told Variety. “We have had five years of independence and democracy since the Orange Revolution, Ukrainian film distribution has improved by some 20%, helped in part by measures to ensure local-language dubbing or subtitling (after years of Russian-language dominance). It does not look like this will change.”

The political shift could even pave the way for some opportunities to advance film industry policies, he suggested.

Although the Orange Revolution had given much hope to many, major reform of the country’s film regulations had been sluggish: A new film bill has been languishing in parliament for some years, its proposals to increase film funding through a levy on cinema tickets, alcohol and tobacco the subject of endless political intrigues. And annual subsidies for film that early in the outgoing president’s term had been $10 million had recently been slashed tenfold.

“We are expecting 10 or 12 movies to be completed this coming year, but many producers are having difficulty finding the money to finish their projects,” Khalpakhchi said.

Still, some things do not change: With the new president not due to be sworn in for another month, the Ukrainians can still legitimately boast that their Berlinale reception on Thursday — sponsored by vodka brand Nemiroff — will be graced by the country’s first lady, Kateryna Yushchenko.

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