Viktoriya Tigipko graduated from the Kyiv National Economic University, majoring in International Economic Relations and Law. She also studied Financial Management at the Vienna University of Economics and Business and completed a Ventures Capital Executive Program at Berkeley. She is a Founding Partner at TA Ventures, a venture capital fund that invests in innovative seed and early-stage consumer Internet and mobile tech companies in the USA and Europe (Germany, U.K. and Ukraine). Since 2010, Viktoriya has been organizing the “IDCEE. Internet Technologies and Innovations” Conference, one of the top European conferences on Internet technologies. In 2013, Viktoriya launched Code Club Ukraine, a nationwide volunteer initiative for teaching children to code, which is a local branch of Code Club World. According to numerous annual ratings, Viktoriya was listed among the TOP5 IT influencers in Ukraine for three consecutive years (2012, 2013 and 2014), 200 Most Influential People in Ukraine in 2013, and 100 Most Influential Women in Ukraine in 2012 and 2013. But Viktoriya is also the President of the Odesa International Film Festival and the Ukrainian Film Academy.
Tara Karajica caught up with Viktoriya Tigipko at this year’s Odesa International Film Festival.
You are a venture capitalist, what made you want to work with film as well?
Viktoriya Tigipko: I love Cinema and it has been my passion for the last twenty years. I prefer art-mainstream/art-house films and my idea was to introduce these films to the Ukrainian audience. I remember thirteen years ago, when our main sponsor, Tascombank, was supporting small art-house film festivals where they presented new British Cinema, new Spanish Cinema, new German Cinema and any other art-house and art-mainstream European Cinema to the Ukrainian audience. They started at small cinemas and with time, they emigrated to bigger theaters and we understood there was a trend that showed a demand for intellectual films in Ukraine. Then, ten years ago, we decided to found a festival that focused on art-mainstream films, the kind of films we, the festival founders, like. And the good thing is that the core team members of the Odesa International Film Festival have not changed since 2010. All these people love art-mainstream films, films that have a high intellectual component, something that is very clear to the audience. That is exactly the way we choose films for the Odesa International Film Festival. In that sense, we keep going and we see the trends. The audience want to consider film as a meditation of sorts, as an idea to experience something deeply. Popcorn films are still there – just to train the beginners, kids and teenagers, mostly – and then we migrate to the more intellectual films that bring something to our lives.
How have you contributed to building the Ukrainian film industry from the ground up after its collapse?
V.T.: When the Soviet Union collapsed, the film industry collapsed too and there were no films being made at the Dovzhenko Film Studios anymore. There were no films being made at the Odessa Film Studio either. It’s a pity because it is a studio with all this history. We celebrated a double jubilee this year – we have our tenth anniversary and they have their 100th anniversary. It’s one of the oldest film studios in the world! So what have we done so far to rebuild the industry? In 2010, we could not even make a National Competition program. Today, the Odesa International Film Festival is like two parallel events. There is a huge international film festival and, in parallel, there is a National Film Competition. For the film competition in 2010, we couldn’t find enough films – we couldn’t even find two – and that was an issue. So we decided to do something about it and we started to rebuild the industry. We had a few meetings with the Government, pushing them to invest and to support the Ukrainian film industry with grants. And it happened, starting with ten million dollars a year up to almost fifty million dollars a year – that’s where we are now with the film industry. The Government support was a huge boost for the development of the Ukrainian film industry. What we see now, in this ten-year span, is that we are receiving more than three hundred Ukrainian films for the National Competition. We actually went from zero to more than three hundred! And these figures keep growing. It’s features, shorts, documentaries, animation, etc. We are really proud of that. Another big achievement is the Ukrainian films that have really grown in quality as well. This year, they were among the top ten films at the box office that also included all the Hollywood blockbusters. And this will also keep growing. They have a seven million-euro box office, which will grow up to ten million euros, I am sure, in the next one to three years.
Our goal is for women to have equal rights in terms of bigger budget films and therefore have the same budgets as men. It’s not that we are doing it because we have to. It’s all about economically driven figures.
Can you talk about the situation of women in film in Ukraine? Is it changing? How are you contributing to this with the various initiatives that the festival has been organizing?
V.T.: We have been supporting women in film for the past three years with special programs for female filmmakers and we are happy to keep going with these initiatives. We have also joined the HeforShe initiative. As a festival, and myself as an individual, we are big supporters of this initiative and so are other team members. That’s why we invited Rose McGowan this year. She is a wonderful example of how to raise your voice and stand up; how not to be shy or ashamed, and how to speak loudly about the issues of sexual harassment in the film industry specifically, but in all other aspects of life as well. And I would like to see positive changes in the near future. I understand, it’s through pain, but through pain results can be achieved. And when we join forces in Ukraine, in Central and Eastern Europe – but also on a global level – with such strong voices like that of Rose McGowan and other representatives of different industries , not only the film industry, we can achieve results in a really short period of time.
This year, we also have a conference about women in the film industry and I like that we have this program on an annual basis in order to change the situation of women in the film industry and other businesses. Ukraine, I would say, is not a suffering country because it has 35% of women in the Film Academy and almost 50% of women have been up for awards during the time the festival has been existing, so we keep this balance and it’s organic. Our goal is for women to have equal rights in terms of bigger budget films and therefore have the same budgets as men. It’s not that we are doing it because we have to. It’s all about economically driven figures. For every dollar invested in film businesses managed by women, they bring 78 cents of profit, compared to 31 cents brought in by businesses with male founders. It’s not about pity or balance, it’s about the economical balance. Women do really bring in the money, they do bring in a different impact and balance to different kinds of organizations, businesses or film teams. There should be a balance. Because otherwise, there is a disbalance that is economically damaging to any enterprise.
What does your role of President of the Odesa International Film Festival and the Ukrainian Film Academy entail?
V.T.: At the Film Academy, I am just the chief of the Supervisory Committee and the Film Academy functions according to the standard rules of other film academies. It is self-managed and every three years, we vote another CEO. There are fifty members who decide what we do. We focus a lot on educational activities. The academy members speak at schools, universities, in front of mixed audiences in order to spread the word about the potential of the film industry in Ukraine – how to work, how to join the Academy, how to join the film industry… That’s really important because the potential of the Ukrainian film industry is huge. As President, I am doing whatever the President should do. I am managing the team, making sure that everybody is driven and going into the same direction – that is why the team of the Odesa Film Festival has not changed since its first year. The core team has remained the same.
Can you talk about your other activities?
V.T.: I’m also the founder of the biggest tech organization for women in Ukraine that, currently, has more than a thousand members. This year, we open the Odessa chapter during the WTECH grant meet-up. It’s an interesting activity that will be followed by another activity with the Women in Business organization that will start in September and the goal is to promote and support female leadership and female entrepreneurship in all industries, including the film industry.
What does the future hold for the Odesa International Film Festival?
V.T.: Being originally from the tech industry and having starting the TA Fund in 2010 as well as the biggest tech conference, IDCEE, the knowledge I gained from screening a couple thousand start ups every year from Europe, Ukraine and the U.S. gave us an understanding of what exactly we have to implement in the development of the tech innovation component into the Ukrainian film industry. The next years for us will be all about bringing the festival to a whole new level. We will implement new audiovisual formats in all the parallel events, mini festivals, special programs and activities into the Odesa Film Festival, where technology will change the industry. It is already changing the industry and the industry itself is changing the technology. It’s no surprise that technology is changing the film industry exactly the same way it has been changing our lives these past ten years. Our goal is to maximally integrate technology into the film industry in different aspects, from screenwriting and script doctoring to the analysis of the potential to monetize the script, PR marketing, filming, special effects, optimizing on everything and getting a more precise audience with pre-screenings for the audience and getting their feedback. All this will change the interface of the film industry in the near future. Our goal is to be, in ten years, the number one film festival in the world to have integrated technology in its activity on the highest possible level.
This interview was conducted at the 2019 Odesa International Film Festival.