Film Company Bets On Crimea

CRIMEA, Ukraine -- With a breeze-cooled warmth that recalls the Mediterranean, and dramatic sea-battered cliffs that serve as the ideal backdrop, Crimea may yet become Ukraine’s answer to Hollywood and spearhead the development of the country’s underdeveloped film industry.

English-language “Sappho,”a film about a destructive love triangle being filmed on the Crimean peninsula

In the meantime, industry insiders say that Crimean film crews are capable, but talent from Kyiv is sorely lacking.

Once a prime location for major Soviet film productions, the peninsula’s contours are now attracting renewed interest from Russian and Ukrainian movie makers, who for their part employ talent from as far away as the United States and the U.K.

In the latest transformation of Crimea’s landscape by a Ukrainian-based filmmaking outfit, a new film called “Sappho” turns the peninsula into the Greek island of Lesbos, the birthplace of the ancient Greek gender-bending poetess after whom the picture is named.

Artur Novikov, the film’s Ukrainian producer, said that in addition to wanting to make “Sappho” a commercial success, he also hopes to return Crimea to the former glory that it enjoyed as an important filmmaking location during Soviet times.

Novikov is a co-owner of Yalta Film, the production company behind “Sappho”, which is based in the Crimean Black Sea resort city but has a branch in Moscow.

Using an international film cast and crew comprised of a British director, Crimean film production specialists and Russian and American actors, Yalta Film chose Balaklava – a former top-secret Soviet submarine fleet stronghold nestled under Sevastopol – as the Greek-tragic backdrop for its debut film.

Novikov said that although he wants the film to succeed commercially, falling short of that goal would not upset Yalta Film’s further filmmaking efforts.

“We have enough resources to make several films. If we make a profit [on this film], that means we are doing well,” he added.

“Sappho” is being shot in English and has a budget of up to $4 million.

Novikov said he has already been approached by Russian and European distributors, as well as by a new American channel for sexual minorities, which are interested in buying the rights to the movie.

“We refused it [the offer] immediately, since it [“Sappho”] is not intended to be a movie about gay love – just about love as it is,” said Novikov.

Set in 1926, “Sappho” is not about homosexual affinities between women, as alluded to in some of the scraps of lyric poetry preserved from the Greek poetess’ reportedly voluminous writings, but rather a destructive love triangle that the press release to the movie describes as “uncontrollable love and passion, or just, girl plus boy plus girl.”

Novikov said he plans on making his money back from Russian movie theaters and investing any profits on promotion of the film in the United States.

According to him, the money to produce the movie was made from a packaging business owned by him and his brother in Russia and Ukraine.

Prior to starting work on “Sappho,” Novikov said that Yalta Film, which began operating in 2003, provided production services and equipment rental to, primarily, Russian crews shooting in Crimea. He said the company’s turnover reached $2 million in 2005, nearly $1.5 million more than in 2004.

Novikov estimated that it took him and his partners nearly 10 years of work to prepare for the filmmaking business, adding that total investments into creating Yalta Film, not including the budget for “Sappho,” were about $5 million.

British-born director Robert Crombie, another co-owner of Yalta Film, and the director of “Sappho,” said the movie would not be a sleazy production, but rather, “a serious feature film … more like Roman Polanski’s ‘Bitter Moon,’ or even ‘The Last Tango in Paris’ by Bernardo Bertolucci.”

“Only an idiot would call them erotic – it is about something else,” he said.

Crombie said that the movie tells the story of an American couple that gets involved in a love triangle with another girl, who is Russian, and that the plot of the movie is loosely based on the ancient Greek tragedy of the poetess Sappho herself, who, according to some sources, died by throwing herself off a cliff due to unrequited love for a male sailor.

Crombie said the crew working on “Sappho” is international, with the protagonists being played by young American and Russian actors. To create an authentic Greek feel, the movie also casts up to 50 Greek actors. One of the supporting characters is played by famous Ukrainian actor Bohdan Stupka.

Avalon Barrie, the 19-year-old American star of “Sappho” who starred in her first, five-minute feature film earlier this year, said “Sappho” is a professional challenge and a welcome source of income.

The second-year college student does her own erotic scenes, without using a stand-in, according to Yalta Film’s Crombie.

“It’s my job ... it helps make the movie interesting,” Barrie told the Post.

According to Novikov, Barrie gets paid about the same as a mid-range Russian actress.

“I keep being astonished by the professionalism of American actors,” said Crombie. “Unlike the Russian ones, they don’t need to be complimented for coming on set on time and … sober.”

Crombie – who spent the last seven years in the advertising business in Russia, Eastern Europe, the United States and Ukraine, and has such films as “The Keeper of Time and “Cuba Libre” to his directing credits – said that it’s not the Ukrainian filmmaking industry that has a future in Crimea.

“The future of moviemaking in Crimea is linked to the Russian film industry, not to the Ukrainian one, and that will never change.”

He said that he avoids using film crew from Kyiv and has had to fire all crew members recruited for “Sappho” from Ukraine’s capital.

“Every time I have to deal with them, I am amazed at their low level of professionalism. The professional standards of people in Yalta are significantly higher – you can feel the difference.”

According to Crombie, the support crew for the film is largely Crimean, with key crew positions taken by Russians and Americans.

Volodymyr Voitenko, the editor of the Ukrainian Kinokolo quarterly film magazine, and the host of the “Argument Kino” television show on Channel 1+1, said the reason for such an attitude, as held by Crombie, toward the Kyiv-based film industry can possibly be explained by the lack of constant filmmaking practice in Kyiv.

By comparison, he said that in Yalta, local film crews gain more experience as a result of the prime locations in Crimea that are attractive to Russian film studios, which use the services of technical crews in Crimea.

“Crimea is arguably the most potentially profitable spot for filmmaking in all of Ukraine,” Voitenko said.

Among the increasing number of highly popular Russian film titles made in Crimea in the last two years is “Devyataya Rota,” a Russian war movie made in 2005 on a $9 million budget, which grossed over $20 million at Russian box offices.

Set in 1989 in the last days of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, “Devyataya Rota” became Russia’s official entry to the Academy Awards’ long list for 2007.

Source: Kyiv Post


Ra said…
I saw a movie in the 1980ies, in a art cinema house, Toronto. it was about a enchanted cinema crew shooting a love melodrama in Yalta circa 1905. I still remember the last scene when the white guards are chasing the the lead actress in a illuminated tram, without a driver, and she, all in lace, crosses her arms over her chest , crying ' Gentleman, please don't" Does anybody knows the name of this movie?