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Dovzhenko Centre to Host 11th OIFF Retrospective “Free in Odesa: Independent Cinema of the 1990s”

5 prominent films make up the programme

As the 11th Odesa International Film Festival runs between 25 September and 3 October, the Dovzhenko Centre will host the fifth national retrospective “Free in Odesa: Independent Cinema of the 1990s”. Film screenings will take place offline at “Stage 6@ of the Dovzhenko Centre in Kyiv between 26 September to 7 October.

The retrospective brings together several films, mostly debuts, by independent directors from Odesa, who, amongst the turbulence and existential uncertainty of the early 1990s, were creating post-perestroika films, teeming with the idea of searching for new aesthetic forms, ethical and moral waypoints. While collaborating closely between themselves and with the informal artistic scene of 1990s Odesa, including Mykhailo Reva, Borys Khersonskyi, Yurii Kuznetsov, and inspired by the example of Kira Muratova, directors Mykhailo Kats, Serhii Rakhmanin, Ihor Minaiev, Yurii Sadomskyi, Yurii Belianskyi, mostly remained in her shadow, although they ventured into experimental areas, bordering on the absurd, utopia, video art and new religion.

Due to the collapse of the centralised film distribution system, the films of the independent Odessan directors never reached the silver screen, mostly becoming their authors only work. Therefore, some of the programme films will enjoy cinema premieres when they are screened in Kyiv.

Despite the differences in approaches and artistic decisions, the Odessan independent film directing school reflected in its own unique way the controversies surrounding the transition from perestroika to independence, characterised by an active process of searching for a new identity – individual, artistic and cultural. Coming into existence away from the mainstream Ukrainian and Russian filmmaking of the time, the Odessan alternative cinema bizarrely combined existential escapism with limitless creative freedom. The retrospective “Free in Odesa: Independent Cinema if the 1990s” is the first attempt at conceptualising Odessan independent filmmaking of the early 1990s.

The retrospective features the following films:

“The Desert” directed by Mykhailo Kats, finished in 1991. A New Testament apocrypha based on Leonid Andreev’s short stories “Judas Iscariot” and “Eleazar” is filled with grotesque images, biblical stories and characters. Their kaleidoscope creates a fresco where Jesus is presented as one of the elements of the world, a thirsty messiah. Becoming apparent behind the biblical motifs are allusions to life in the crumbling USSR, where the feelings of disorientation, uncertainty and anxiety reign free.

Mykhailo Kats’ 1993 film “The Lame Shall Enter First” gravitates towards wider mythological representations and evangelical allegories. In the film, the homegrown preacher mister Sheppard becomes mentor for a difficult teen, the lame Rufus. Together they set off on an educational journey into the mountains. As they walk, Rufus repeatedly quotes the Bible, scares the man’s 10-year-old son with images of hell and refers to his mentor as “a self-proclaimed Jesus”. Rufus’ argument with the man comes to a tragic end in a mountain observatory, to then be repeated after dozens of years.

A loose screen adaptation of Franz Kafka’s diary entries, Serhii Rakhmanin’s “The K Person” came out in 1992. This is the debut film by one of the most distinctive directors having worked at the Odesa Film Studio in the 1990s. The main character is a famous writer, widely considered a genius. Yet, the mask of a contemplative and smiling person conceals a deeply unhappy man with his demons, fears, creative hardships, a continuous study of himself, the surrounding world, a perpetual stranger, condemned to loneliness in a crowd of people, forever feeling as the Other.

The phantasmagorical 1992 confession film by Yurii Sadomskyi, “Rubinchyk and...” Store”, introduces the viewer to the Jewish old man, Isaac Rubinchyk, peer and witness to the bitterness of the 20th century. Similar to a rabbi or a psychotherapist, Rubinchyk hears the confessions of a forever lost professor, a police officer, a self-proclaimed Al Capone and a young couple. Whatever they are looking for in life, be it a bit of gold or a blessing, Rubinchyk’s improvised store always has something to offer.

Yurii Belianskyi’s “Road to Paradise” came out in the crossover year of 1991 and stood out quite starkly among the mass of realistic films focused on the dark aspects of life which flooded cinemas at the time. In contrast to realism, director Yurii Belianskyi turned to the tradition of the poetic film parable. The story focuses on a mailman who delivers death notices through the dark streets of the night city. Trying to soften the blow, he once forges a wire. Although this leads to him losing his job, he still persists in trying to bring good to people, even if they are not exactly looking for it. The hero tries to share his internal confusion with God, who seems a lot more like a party politarist.