Julia Sinkevych is a law graduate from the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, but she also studied at the Kyiv Music Academy of P. Tchaikovsky. In 2016/2017, she was a participant of the SOFA – School of Film Agents program which concluded with a membership at the European Film Academy. Julia’s career includes the management of cultural projects in different spheres of the arts such as music, theatre, film as art manager and producer. The most prominent cultural events Julia Sinkevych has been involved in are the International Music Festival, the Koktebel Jazz Festival, the International Festival of Contemporary Arts GOGOLFEST and the Odesa International Film Festival, where she has been working as general producer since 2011.
Julia has previously worked at the Arthouse Traffic distribution and production company where she was in charge of the festival promotion of a selection of short films known as “Angry Ukrainians” as well as feature films produced by the company. She also promoted young Ukrainian filmmakers and the international cooperation between film industry professionals from Ukraine and abroad. Last but not least, Julia has also co-produced Vitaliy Mansky’s documentary film “Close relations.”
Ahead of this year’s inaugural “Cinema: Backstage” conference on gender equality at the 9th Odesa International Film Festival, Tara Karajica talks to Julia Sinkevych about women in film today and her work as the festival’s general manager, as a producer and as the agent par excellence of the Ukrainian film industry.
Can you tell us about your work in Short Film and the promotion of young Ukrainian filmmakers?
Julia Sinkevych: Back in 2009-2010, the Arthouse Traffic company which was one of the founders of the Odesa International Film Festival (OIFF), started the project «F***ers. Arabesques» («Mudaky. Arabesky») and then Ukraine, goodbye – a series of low budget short films that were united under the so-called Angry Ukrainians program. People hardly knew then that Ukraine had films and talents at all, it was totally unknown fact to the rest of the world. And we – the Arthouse Traffic team and OIFF – started to promote this project at international film festivals, offering the program to programmers with the aim to create a trend. Gradually, our films gained attention. This way, we supported young Ukrainian Cinema when it had no State support whatsoever and when the Ukrainian film industry was just starting to grow.
What does your work as General producer of the Odesa International Film Festival entail?
J.S.: First of all, it is the content of the overall event. I deal with the film selection, the programming of industry events, sidebar events and guests. I am also responsible for the strategy of the festival, its image and promotion. My job also includes the overall management of the process and the team, the liaisons with partners and sponsors, fundraising etc. It is, of course, a lot for one person, but I am not alone and I work with a professional team who is dedicated, motivated and loves the Odesa International Film Festival.
And, your work as producer?
J.S.: I’m only an aspiring one so far and my filmography lists only one finished film and two more projects that are currently in production and development. In 2016, I was a co-producer on Vitaly Mansky’s film Close Relations. It’s a co-production between Germany, Latvia, Estonia, and Ukraine. The film was presented at more than fifty different festivals. It is the story of Vitaliy’s family and their relations in times of war, which occurred on the territory of Ukraine. It was important to me that the film be at least partly Ukrainian. Vitaly Mansky was born in Ukraine even though he lived his entire life in Russia. The filming process started at the time when Ukraine saw the outbreaks of the revolution and its escalation into war. I could not stay away from this project, so I just looked for any opportunity to be involved in it.
My other project that is now in its early development stage is a biopic on Lesya Ukrainka. She was a prominent Ukrainian poet and cultural figure well known to every Ukrainian, but only partially known to the rest of the world. And even here, in Ukraine, we know the “polished” version of her life. She was a strong and talented woman, the champion of progressive Ukraine on par with the female modernist writers of Western Europe. Her life story resembles that of Frida Kahlo and the film about her is a sort of reference.
I would not dare say that producing is my business, but so far, the projects I’m currently involved in are important and interesting to me personally. Besides, it’s quite hard to combine my producing business with running such a big event as the Odesa International Film Festival.
What can you say about this year’s edition in terms of programming and other sidebar events? What should we pay attention to?
J.S.: This year, we had one thousand and eleven films submitted and the selection committee of the festival chose more than a hundred-and-ten best films from around the world. Twelve full-length films from nineteen countries (including co-productions) were selected in the International Competition, and five full-length and thirteen short films were announced in the National Competition program as well as eight films that are taking part in the European Documentary Competition. The industry program of the OIFF – the Film Industry Office and the Summer Film Market – will be traditionally rich in events. We’re launching a new initiative this year, which is a mini-conference called “Cinema: Backstage.” The main topics include global issues in the field of cinema policy and an analysis of the relevance of these issues regarding the Ukrainian film industry, the definition of critical points of view and the main directions of development. We plan to make this conference the main platform for regional professionals who will later represent the key ideas in the realm of Cinema with a potential international response.
This year, in its first edition, “Cinema: Backstage” will tackle gender equality. Tamara Tatishvili, the Georgian representative of Eurimages and European Film Promotion, is the curator and will moderate the conference. The speakers will be Roberto Olla, the Executive Director of the of Eurimages, the Council of Europe’s Film Fund; Hanna Slak, the European Women’s Audiovisual Network representative; Eric Garandeau, consultant and adviser to the French Ministry of Culture; Kate Kinninmont, Chief Executive of Women in Film and Television – UK and Iryna Prokofieva, the Culture Bridges program manager, Gender Equality and Empowerment program coordinator of the British Council in Ukraine.
Where is the Odesa International Film Festival positioned within the Ukrainian, Eastern European and International film industry? How does it foster the local film industry?
J.S.: The Odesa International Film Festival is the biggest and most important film festival in Ukraine, one of the biggest audience film festivals in Eastern Europe. This is a huge event for the Ukrainian film industry. One of the goals of the festival is to promote Ukrainian Cinema and its talents in particular. We were happy to follow the rapid development of the film industry during the recent years which has seemingly resulted in the interest of foreign film professionals. Ukrainian Cinema is now spoken of and a great lot of different co-production opportunities are now within reach. Ukrainian talents are slowly gaining more and more attention, they are involved in film production in Ukraine and abroad and, moreover, Ukraine is now open as an incredible film destination with its mountains, sea, forests, ancient cities and incredible landscapes…
The Ukrainian film industry is currently going through a reform. How?
J.S.: A recently adopted new law on cinematography is a very important step, which finally gives a modern definition to the number of terms that haven’t been defined before. Also, this law presupposes a cash rebate of 16%. Filmmakers have obtained new financial opportunities such as for example, additional funding for patriotic Cinema granted by the Ministry of Culture or the establishment of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation. Altogether, these are very good tendencies that provide consistent results.
In that regard, you have a role in this reform, through your contribution to the founding of the Ukrainian Film Academy and the Ukrainian Film Awards. Can you elaborate on that?
J.S.: The idea of the establishment of a Ukrainian Film Academy and National Film Awards has been on the table for a long time. It was quite strange that a country that has been independent for more than twenty-five years didn’t have its own Film Academy. Last year, our team launched it and I think it’s our biggest contribution to the development of the Ukrainian film industry. We have researched the structures and systems of how film academies around the world operate and we have figured out rules and strategies for the Ukrainian Film Academy. We have held two “Golden Dziga” ceremonies so far and now we can see the extent of its positive influence on the industry.
Women in Film is a hot topic today. What is your opinion on the current situation of women in the film industry?
J.S.: Unfortunately, it came to pass that women in Film are underestimated and not trusted enough. Statistically speaking, women in the film industry are paid less than men and are often discriminated against. A weird fact: women get less screen time and lines in films directed by men. Only 10% of IMDb’s “250 best movies” are directed by women. In 2011, 95% Hollywood releases and 89% scripts bore the names of male directors, 67% films were produced by men while the share of male cameramen was more than 92%. In the following years, the situation hasn’t changed much. In the ninety years of the Academy Awards, female directors have been nominated for the Oscar for Best Film only four times. Yet, I am personally happy that every year this topic gets more and more media attention as well as that of policy-makers. Initiative groups all over the world are raising their voices in support of 50% female representation in the film industry and film festivals. This year marked the first time ever that a woman was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. These are hopefully good signs.
How is it in Ukraine?
J.S.: The number of female directors and female producers in Ukraine is decent and I’d say they are well represented in creative fields. Yet, the majority of decision and policy-makers are still male. That’s why not everything is as good as it could be. There is room for development. However, a pleasant fact is that all the top management positions at the Odesa International Film Festival are held by women.
Are you a feminist?
J.S.: I am not into labeling myself as someone, but I am a person supporting equal rights and freedom, including the freedom of choice and the freedom of arts.
This year, Odesa International Film Festival is organizing the “Gender Equality: Myth and Reality” conference. What was the motivation behind it? Why and how is this particular issue relevant in Ukraine?
J.S.: The Odesa International Film Festival has raised the female issue before, made it one of the motives during previous editions. Last year, we had a “Wonder Women” retrospective – a selection of films with a female lead. Films of different genres, made in the period from 1979 to 2016 that highlight strong and atypical female characters who break rules and stereotypes were shown. This year, we have decided to collect as much information on this topic as we can and discuss it, as we understand that the issue of female rights is one of the hottest at the moment and we offer a platform to discuss Western and Eastern European points of view. Within the framework of the conference called “Cinema: Backstage,” we will hold a panel discussion where famous women from the film industry will exchange their opinions and ideas on gender equality policy. The discussion will be joined by the Polish producer Ewa Puszczyńska, the Georgian director Nana Dzhanelidze, and directors Hanna Slak from Slovenia and Daria Zhuk from Belarus, as well as artists from Ukraine. The Odesa International Film Festival will be represented by its President Viktoriya Tigipko and myself. Tamara Tatishvili and Kate Kinninmont will moderate the panel discussion.
With this conference, does Odesa International Film Festival want to say that it joins the fight for gender equality in the audiovisual sector?
J.S.: First of all, our main priority is the high quality of films, their artistic value being in the first place for us. Of course, we support equality, freedom of choice and equal opportunities even though we are not a political institution that can form any kind of cultural policy in this sphere. But we are ready to participate and contribute to the resolution of these issues.
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