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With culture in the focus
Vasyl Viter, VIATEL founder and film director.
There is a film studio in Kyiv which is actively working. It may sound strange but such are realities of today’s Ukraine that the fact that Studio VIATEL, in contrast to other Ukrainian studios, regularly brings out films, deserves a special mention. Halyna KRYVORCHUK investigates what makes Studio VIATEL so different.
VIATEL has been making films for fifteen years. They are not feature films though — they are mostly documentaries which are devoted to episodes from Ukraine’s history, prominent personalities of the past and of the present, works of art and architectural landmarks.
In the early 1990s, when Ukraine regained her independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a lot of changes and transformations were occurring in this country. The profound changes in the social and economic structure affected all the other spheres of life. Making movies was one of them. Ukrainian film making, for all practical purposes, ground to a halt. Some of those who had been involved in making films earlier went mostly to Russia in search of employment. Others switched over to making music videos, commercials and advertisement. Some waited and hoped for better times to come. A few found ways of making TV serials. Just a handful managed to make feature films. Studio VIATEL, which was founded by the film director Vasyl Viter who had begun his career in film making in the 1980s, united those who wanted to work in the Ukrainian cinematography making culture-oriented documentaries. And in spite of the economic crises, very little or no help from the state, VIATEL has never stopped making films.
Among VIATEL films there are three films which showed the resurrection of three major churches, which had been destroyed by the militantly atheistic soviet regime or badly damaged during the Second World War, that probably deserve to be mentioned first.
VIATEL kept filming the process of rebuilding of the Mykhaylivsky Zolotoverkhy Sobor (Golden-Domed Cathedral of St Michael) in Kyiv, the Uspensky Sobor (Cathedral of the Assumption of the blessed Virgin) in the Lavra Monastery in Kyiv, and of the Volodymyrsky Sobor (St Volodymyr’s) in Khersones in the vicinity of Sevastopol, Crimea.
For eight years, VIATEL was capturing on celluloid all the stages of the slow rebuilding process whose ultimate aim was to reconstruct the churches in such a way so that they would look exactly the same they did before their destruction. The reconstruction was highly successful. To bring back the churches which had been spiritual centers rather than only marvelous architectural landmarks to their former glory was a noble task in the newly independent Ukraine, a sort of atonement for the crimes against humanity and culture which had been perpetrated by the two murderous totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
In case of the Uspensky Sobor, there are a lot of things in the film (it is called, incidentally, Sobor) about its rebuilding which laymen could not actually see even if they kept watching the process of reconstruction with their own eyes. One of such things is the delicate, time-consuming and painstaking process of covering the domes with gold leaf. Restorers have to have very specialized skills to be able to do it well. This film, Sobor, was awarded a prize at the 33rd International Tourist Film Festival TOURFILM 2000, which is held annually at Karlovy Vary, the Czech Republic. The films also include sequences which are not directly linked to the reconstruction but help create a special mood — for example, a heavy snowfall in Kyiv at the time when the horse chestnut trees were in full blossom, or a sand storm in the Crimea when the almonds were blooming.
Sobor was one of the first films in Ukraine in which the sound system Dolby digital was used. Some Czech film makers, among them the sound engineer director Ivo Spaly, well known in the Czech Republic and abroad, provided their kind help in the post-production phase. Sobor, and two other films about the reconstruction of the ruined churches, were shown in many countries of the world, among them Lithuania, Malta, Germany, Poland, France, Italy, Macedonia and the USA. They were also shown at EXPO-2000 which was held in Hanover, Germany.
In the past few years, beginning from 2005, VIATEL has been working at a series of documentaries, Hra doli (Games of Fate), which presents the life of a number of prominent Ukrainians of the distant and not so distant past. Through the private life of these persons, tragic, dramatic or comic episodes, the films bring out their significance for the development of culture in Ukraine. Among these remarkable personalities we find political leaders, hetmans and princes, poets and novelists, scholars and musicians, performers and artists.
The Hra doli project was masterminded by Vasyl Viter, the founder and current head of the studio, and launched together with Oleh Turansky, a young director, and Natalka Sopit, an actress. The first film in the series, which was produced by Viter, was shown at the 5 Kanal TV Station which enjoys a considerable reputation among the Ukrainian TV viewers for its wide coverage of current political events and its civic stance. Since then, it has been 5 Kanal that would premiere the films in the Hra doli series, with other TV stations following suit. The films in this series are also shown in movie houses across the country. They have already been shown in more than a dozen Ukrainian cities, which is an excellent showing result in the present-day Ukraine, though one wishes their number would be greater.
So far, over seventy films have been made, with more to come. A number of film makers involved in making the series has grown too, but the presenter remains invariably the same — Natalka Sopit. In the opinion of many, her contribution to the series has been one of the ingredients of success. When she got married and consequently got pregnant, she did not stop working until she was into the eighth month of her pregnancy. When her daughter Sofiyka was only three months old, Natalka returned to work which involved a lot of traveling — she took the baby daughter along on her business trips across Ukraine.
Filming was done in very many places of Ukraine, their geography covering the entire map of this country. Old fortresses, sites of important battles, ancient castles, historical and memorable sights, museums, old houses and mansions and picturesque scenery appear in the movies and in the still photographs taken during the filming. Natalka, wearing period costumes, is always in the center of attention of onlookers and bystanders who happen to be near the place of filming. Once, in the Zolochivsky Castle in the Land of Lvivshchyna, she was besieged by a group of tourists who snapped pictures thinking she was part of some historical reenactment.
About twenty film scripts are waiting to be filmed at VIATEL. The studio wants to widen the circle of historical and cultural personages about whom films would be made (so far there have been over two hundred of them) to include people of Ukrainian descent who lived abroad but made worthy contributions to science and the arts. VIATEL is looking for sponsors abroad to help with the financing of the new project.
The young directors at VIATEL have set up their own studio within the parent studio and called Atelier 9. They make films about paintings in the art galleries and museums of Kyiv and shoot a series of films, Kyiv incognito, in which they tell stories about various sites and buildings of Kyiv with historical significance. Among other places, the central square of Kyiv, Maydan Nezalezhnosti, the venue of what has become known as “Orange Revolution of 2004,” is honored with a film about it.
VIATEL has made over a hundred films since its foundation and many more are to come. Some of the VIATEL films are available on DVDs.
Learn more about VIATEL at www.viatel.kiev.ua
Photography director Ihor Prymisky filming the raising of the dome which has been
Ivo Spaly, sound engineer (left) and Vasyl Viter at the Barandov Studio, Prague, the Czech Republic. 2001.
At the shooting of the film Bohdan Khmelnytsky, which was one of the films in the series of documentaries Hra doli (Games of Fate). Vydubetsky Monastery, Kyiv, May 2009.
Some of the Viatel documentaries on DVDs.
Halyna Kryvorchuk, VIATEL executive manager, with the prize awarded for the film Sobor (Cathedral) at the 33rd International Tourist Film Festival TOURFILM 2000, Karlovy Vary, the Czech Republic.
During the filming of Ivan Mazepa, one of the films in the series of documentaries, Hra doli (Games of Fate). Pidhoretsky Castle, 2007.
Photography director Ihor Prymisky filming the hoisting of the cross to the top of a dome on the Mykhaylivsky Cathedral. November 21 1998.
Photos have been provided