Nataliya Bondarchuk — a «fairy godmother» of Ukrainian students filmmakers

Nataliya Bondarchuk — CEO of the «European Legal Group «Diplomat» LLC, President of the «Research Institute for  Democracy Development» PO, President of the «First Step» student cinema festival, public figure, and philanthropist. Nataliya has long been a founder of festivals and events in support of talented Ukrainian youth.

For the third year in a row, at the initiative of Nataliya Bondarchuk and other people, not indifferent to the fate of young Ukrainian cinema, the «First Step» film festival has been held. The festival is a unique platform for the demonstration and discussion of student films — the works of students of Ukrainian film schools. It is aimed at supporting the creative youth of Ukraine and the exchange of experience between student filmmakers and masters of Ukrainian cinema.

«Fostylen’s» editors talked to Nataliya Bondarchuk, a philanthropist, and a «fairy godmother» of film students, and learned about the details of the event and the prospects for young Ukrainian cinema.

Nataliya, your spheres of influence are quite extensive. For three years in a row, you have been supporting Ukrainian students filmmakers. Why did you decide to move in this direction?

Cinema is one of the youngest and, at the same time, the most important arts. Its history, compared to the thousand-year history of music, painting, or theater, is short, but, at the same time, no less significant and covers all strata of society. Cinema conveys our feelings, habits, customs, plunges a person into a world of illusion. Movies are capable of covering almost all spheres of social consciousness, forcing people to take life as something more, they previously perceived it.

I believe that people who have already somehow succeeded in this life are simply obliged to help young people. As a mother of two talented children, I know that supporting creative endeavors is extremely important for the younger generation. Without our advice, wise instructions, moral and financial support, a young talent may sometimes lack the courage and strength to overcome doubts and set foot on the path of career development.

Tell us, what problems does Ukrainian student cinema face today? How important is the support in the form of festivals and workshops for the young generation of filmmakers?

In the early 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the crash of the planned economy, the entire film industry was ruined. It happened so that in the first 15 years of independent production in Ukraine, about the same number of full-length movies were filmed as during some years in the 1970-1980s. 

2010 was a successful year for Ukrainian cinema, when, with the amendments to the Law «On Cinematography», a new system of state support for the industry was formed.

My point is that funding, of course, was, is, and will be the main problem. The situation with state support is especially difficult for young workers in the film industry. However, besides financial problems, there are some others. Young people, student filmmakers often lack the practical component, the opportunity to declare themselves and present their work in a competitive environment. 

Besides, well-read lecture hours are also not enough to become a professional director or screenwriter. They do need advice, constructive criticism, and a wise look from the outside, and, of course, practice.

Young film festivals and workshops with masters are extremely important for the creative development and formation of young filmmakers. I understand it, and my colleagues, who are not indifferent to the fate of Ukrainian cinema, understand it as well.

Nataliya, your festival is of colossal significance not only for the students themselves but for the whole country. Cinema, as you said yourself, is one of the most important arts and what you do is worthy of the highest praise. Tell us, what is the «First Step» for you?

The «First Step» for me is a way to support, direct, share experience with young filmmakers, convince them of the correctness of their choice. These youngsters are the future of the whole industry, which more or less affects the lives of each of us.

It was already the third «First Step». The experience of holding the first festival has shown that this is a very necessary and important matter. The film festival is an additional stimulus for the students’ creative work. 

Needless to say that even teachers themselves are sincerely worried about the fate of their wards at the festival and want them to achieve the best result.

Where did the idea of creating a film festival come from?

As you know, Odesa is the unofficial capital of Ukrainian cinema. Every year our universities graduate hundreds of incredibly talented directors, screenwriters, and actors. The art of cinematography, like any other, does not stand still, is constantly changing, taking on new forms, transforming into new trends. Young people, graduates of Ukrainian film schools, are trendsetters. 

It is their works that will soon shape our views on the world, art, and life in general. Each of them has their vision of the classics and the masters’ works.

My colleagues and I understand very well that getting started is always hard. Often, there is not enough funding, time, and the necessary influencers to promote. That was why we decided to create the «First Step» film festival — a platform that gives new filmmakers a ticket to the big world of cinema, introduces them to famous producers, directors, screenwriters, and influential artists. This is the very «first step» on the path to a successful career in the world of the film industry. 

We allow talented young people to show their work at the festival level, where there is constructive criticism, competition, and the chance to be noticed.

How are films for participation in the film festival selected? What criteria should the works have to take part in the «First Step»?

There were many different works. There were, of course, those that did not fall under the festival level at all, like those filmed on the phone, without a normal plot, with an absolute lack of production and acting. We dismissed such applications at once. 

If we talk about the criteria, then it is a short film of 8-25 minutes (15 on average). 

The main thing is to fully disclose the stated topic. The picture and sound quality are also very important.

The pandemic ruined many plans, negated the organization of a huge number of events and festivals around the world. How did the «First Step» adapt to modern realities?

Due to the coronavirus, we had a limited landing, up to 50 people, with the observance of the mask regime and distancing. 

Of course, there were many more people who wanted to attend the shows and workshops. But these are the modern realities. That was why all the events of the film festival were broadcasted in real-time online.

Registration took place in advance. Basically, among those present were members of the jury, partners, and contestants of the film festival.

You already have three successful film festivals under our belt. Are you planning to make the «First Step» an annual event?

I must say that the «First Step» project was created for this purpose. It is a matter that is always important and necessary. Every year Ukraine graduates hundreds of talented children into a free-floating. There are no  «empty» years. That is why the «First Step» will be held annually.

Nataliya, we know that you personally took over the organizational issues. What prizes did the winners get?

Yes, we have a prize pool. It is a star-shaped cup — a guiding star to success and a cash reward of 40 thousand UAH. Cinema is not a cheap art and all the works presented are filmed with the money of the students themselves, often with the latter.

Therefore, this small amount is a push, an indicator that you need to move in a given direction.

Are you planning to scale the festival to the international level?

Yes, of course, there is such a goal. We are creating an international youth cinema hub in Odesa, a script laboratory, where everyone can receive knowledge so valuable at the beginning of a career, the opportunity to attend workshops from masters, receive production and financial support, and, of course, meet like-minded people.

The language of cinema is the language of the heart, which is understood, perceived, and broadcast in all languages.


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