Maria Illienko with her sons. Photograph taken by Herasym Illienko, her husband. 1951.
I talked to all the three brothers, but at different times and in different places, and asked them more or less the same questions. And then I decided to present their answers and stories grouping them together in accordance with the particular subjects discussed. With Yuriy Illienko (Professor, Academician, plus other honorific titles) we talked in his study whose walls are lined with bookshelves packed with books. In his latest film, Ave Maria, directed by his wife, Lyudmyla Yefymenko, who also wrote the screenplay, he was the director of photography, his two sons played supporting roles. With Vadym Illienko, the eldest brother, we talked in his kitchen (it’s a long-standing tradition among Ukrainian and Russian intellectuals to talk about lofty subjects, politics, etc., in the kitchen). His Za Dvoma Zaytsyamy (“Two Birds in the Bush”), made way back in 1961, has been so far the most often shown film in Ukraine. The two main characters from the film were honoured last year with a monument erected in the Andriyivsky Uzviz, a street of Kyiv where artists have their studios and show their works right there on the pavement to thousands of people who come to Uzviz every day. With Mykhaylo Illienko we talked in a classroom of the Film Directors’ Department of the Kyiv Cinema and Theatre Institute.
He teaches the course in film directing, and he is going to start directing his new film soon; recently he organized a film festival, Open Night, the second of its kind.
“How did you get involved in filmmaking?”
: Well, I just liked going to the movies when I was a kid. After secondary school, I tried my luck at the Moscow Institute of Architecture, but failed - I got excellent grades for specialized subjects and bad grades for general subjects. My mother said I would hardly be able to get in without having some strings pulled. My brother Vadym was at that time already working as a film director at the Dovzhenko Film Studio in Kyiv. But I am a stubborn man, and I did it my way, without anybody’s help.

Vadym Illienko with his family.
Though my father was an engineer, he was an artistically gifted person, as well as my mother. My father’s hobby was artistic photography. Our family fostered love of art in its members.
Vadym: Once, when I was twelve or thirteen, my parents went to have a summer rest to the town of Cherkasy, right on the bank of the Dnipro River. They took me along. While in Cherkasy, I saw how an episode for a war movie was filmed, all set with explosions, river crossing under fire, planes diving. I was so impressed I decided there and then that it was something I wanted to do in life after finishing school: to be a movie director. So, I went ahead and did it. It was not easy though, getting to be accepted at the Moscow Institute of Cinematography that is. I spent three years getting myself prepared for the exams.
Mykhaylo: My story is similar. I was the youngest brother in the family, and, of course, the choice of occupation made by my elder brothers was of a decisive influence upon me as well. As long as I remember myself, I wanted to go into filmmaking.
“Your ambitions? Views on how films should be made?”

Yuriy Illienko and Larysa Kadochnikova with a poster advertising their film The White Bird with a Black Mark; the poster features Ivan Mykolaychuk, a prominent Ukrainian actor.
Yuriy: Creativity is something very special. In art, in the widest sense of the word, you cannot create collectively, you create individually. The greater the variety of creative approaches, the better for art. The more artistic effort you put in your art, the greater the result. In the sixties, I worked with director Paradjanov on a film The Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors. I was director of photography. Paradjanov at first did not accept my approach to photography in that film, but then I managed to convince him it did correspond to the general concept of the film. Incidentally, my brother Vadym, whose approach to photography in films is quite different, criticized my work in that film.
Vadym: I think I’m not ambitious, which is not good for an artist. Neither do I envy anyone. My approach to filmmaking is quite different from those of my brothers. But in 1968, we made a film together, The Eve of Ivan Kupala, there was a lot of excellent artistic invention in it. We felt somewhat constrained in our work though, because we are artists with differing views on making films, Yuriy is a very powerful film artist, I’m not a rank-and-file one either. But we are professionals, and we managed to find the common ground thanks to our professionalism. I can’t stand lack of professionalism.
Mykhaylo: In that film, The Eve..., I played two small roles: one of an angel and another one of a demon.
It was a difficult period in my life, a time of spiritual searching. In 1972, we, three of us, started making another film together, The White Bird with a Black Mark, but then Vadym was taken ill and we had to finish it without him. I was just a beginner then. Film lovers still remember that film. And ask for my autographs.
Yuriy: Yes, it’s nice when you are recognized by strangers. Once, when I was in Cannes, I joined a long line of people queuing up to buy tickets to see a film, very popular then. A man in the line addressed me by name — it turned out he was a student of the Swedish Cinema Academy. I gave several lectures there, for which he now thanked me. In Cannes I received a prize then for the film Swan Lake.
The Zone. My first wife, actress Larysa Kadochnikova, once compared us, the brothers Illienko, with the brothers Karamazov, characters from Dostoyevsky’s novel. There’s something to this comparison. I think neither me nor Vadym are tolerant and open enough, whereas Mykhaylo is much more tolerant than we are. And kind. Kindness, intellect and high morality make one wise.
“What’s your attitude to TV?”
: Television offers us live broadcasts, the thing that movies cannot do. I think, making videos now in Ukraine has come for many directors to be a sort of a substitute for making movies. In my film The Seventh Route, in some episodes I tried to use the approach a director usually takes in making videos.
Yuriy: It seems, a change is coming in our approach to movies. A traditional film, lasting about two hours, with a plot, certain characters, may soon become a thing of the past. Videos are the movies of today. I feel I’d like to make a video myself.
: Making videos means using sophisticated technologies, computers. Blockbusters of today like Titanic, for example, cannot be made without the use of computer technology. And it was TV that originally gave rise to videos which in turn have begun influencing the filmmaking.
“What are your favourite films?”
: Fellini’s 8 and a Half. I’ve seen it many times.

Yuriy Illienko and his son Andriy.

Svitlana and Ivanka Illienko.

Mykhaylo: Once upon a Time there Lived a Song Thrush by Otar Ioseliani. It’s a film that cannot be retold, you’ve got only to see it to get an idea what kind of film it is. That’s real art in cinema. Underground by Yugoslavian director Emir Kusturica. I was very much impressed by that film, there’s a certain affinity between my approach to making films and his. Yuriy: I like films by Milos Forman, the only European who has managed to keep his own line in Hollywood. I met him once in Belgrade, after the premier of my film The White Bird... He was with Neil Armstrong, the first human who walked on the Moon. We shook hands... For several days I did not wash the hand that I offered for the handshake... Have I ever been tempted to go to Hollywood? Yes, I have. I’ve been invited to come there twice, to give lectures, to shoot films. But I did not go. Though I wish I could work with Jack Nickolson, he is an epoch in motion pictures.

Lyudmyla Yefymenko in Swan Lake. The Zone.
“Paradjanov was called by many a man of genius. What is your opinion?”
Yuriy: Yes, he was a charismatic personality. I began my career in cinema as a camera-man, I had good offers but the fate decreed that I should meet Paradjanov at the Kyiv Dovzhenko Film Studio which in the sixties was considered to be a “provincial” studio turning out socialist realism movies, obsequious to the regime. And The Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors was a breakthrough. I worked with Paradjanov as a director of photography. He was not an easy man to work with. But very gratifying. I think he liked me in the end, though at first there were many disagreements.
The film was shown in Mar del Plata, Argentine, and though it did not get the top prize, it was widely acclaimed as a great critical success. It was shown at about 50 film festivals. We planned another film to make together, a sort of a big historical swashbuckler but more on the poetic side. The screenplay was written but the film was never made. There were several reasons for that. One of them was that I had always wanted to be a director and I used my chance when it presented itself. Altogether, I’ve directed 12 films, in five more I was director of photography, in several films I was both. I’ve written 25 screenplays, most of which I sold to others. In the Soviet times, I had problems with my films, some of them were called “antisoviet” and were prohibited to be shown.
“Your family?”

Yuriy: I’ve been together with my wife, Lyudmyla Yefymenko, for 23 years now. She’s an actress. New York Times’ observer Vincent Canby once wrote about her that she had the strong, nearly perfect features of a classic Slavic beauty.

Her teacher at the Institute of Cinematography in Moscow once said that she would become a great actress if she found the right director. You can teach a lot of things, but you can’t teach to be talented or to be a personality. My wife has both talent and personality.
Vadym: I have two daughters. The elder is a film actress, and the younger, after studies at the Institute of Cinema and Theatre, works for a cinema department. The eldest, Olena, played a role in one of my own films. We with my wife Emiliya have been together for forty years now. I’ve made 31 films. Now, with things going not too well in Ukraine’s economy, very few films are made in Ukraine and I’m actually without work as a film-maker. I teach film photography at the National University of Cuture. Mykhaylo: My daughter is a ballerina. In one of my films she played a role for which she even got a prize. But ballet is her major occupation. Now she works in Stuttgart, Germany. I feel my family have given me more than I have given to them.
“What are your plans for the future?”
: No particular plans because there’s practically no work at the studio. Only several films a year are made. I’ve never been a true supporter of the Soviet regime but I’ve got to admit that I feel nostalgic for the times when there was a lot of work for me to do. I was truly happy on the movie set.

A still from Ave Maria; Lyudmyla Yefymenko
in the leading role.

Mykhaylo Illienko, Open Night Film Festival
art director.

Yuriy: I’ve written a new screenplay, Lamb and Agaspher, about the second coming of Christ, Who turns up in Kyiv of today. Now I’m looking for producers for this project, maybe Americans will get interested. Also, I'm getting ready to work on a new film, Legend about Hetman Mazepa. Bohdan Stupka, one of our best actors who has recently been appointed minister of culture, will probably play the leading role. The film will be partially financed by the state and private sponsors are welcome to support this venture as well. Recently, I have written a book, Paradigm of Cinema, which is now being translated into English and French. The Bible has inspired the basic idea for this book — light as a course of all creation.
Mykhaylo: Yuriy’s book is a sort of a profound philosophical treatise. I’ve never expected him to write such a book. I keep writing screenplays — a love story that lasts fifteen hundred years, a “mystical” detective story. One of the screenplays that I’ve recently written is tentatively called Poetics of Parting and of Table Talk. Probably, it’ll be a film in two parts. Combination of reality and absurdity: six people at the table, five of them talking, one keeps silent. Bohdan Stupka can handle a role like that excellently. But now I devote a lot of time to yachting. Am planning to organize a regata on the Dnipro in the vicinity of Kyiv. It’s such a beautiful sight, the sails on the water. Incidentally, I’m making a documentary film about sailing races.

By Heorhiy-Hryhoriy Pylypenko