Ethno music, endangered species, costumes from leading fashion designers, and animation inspired by nature and traditions. That is what the upcoming Ukrainian animated film “Mavka: The Forest Song” is all about. The film tells the story of a magical creature, Mavka, who is based on the fairy play “Forest Song” by Lesia Ukrainka and Slavic mythology imagery.
The soul and guardian of the forest, Mavka fights for her world and to love a young man. She has already enchanted prestigious film and animation forums throughout Europe. At most of these forums, this is the first time a Ukrainian animated movie has ever been selected.
The costs associated with the production team’s participation in international pitching* events were partly covered by the Creative Europe programme, which provides grants for creative European projects. Ukraine joined the programme in 2016.
[*a “pitch” is a presentation of an idea for a film, cartoon, or TV series to a film producer or studio executive for attracting partners and investors].
“Such Creative Europe grants gave us more freedom to make the project as international as possible,” says Lyubov Krokhmalna, head of international co-production at the Media Resources Management (MRM) of Film.UA. This is the group responsible for rollout and promotion of their projects including Mavka at international markets.
After pitching the film in Bordeaux and Barcelona, the team got positive feedback from internationally-recognised production companies, including Disney, BBC, CARTOON, and decided to turn the film into a 360 project – “Mavka`s Universe “, a cross-media project, which will be implemented on many other platforms, in addition to traditional film distribution.
“This means that the film will be followed by TV or web-series, apps, and video games. When a child enters the cinema to see the movie, he or she knows that even after the film is over, Mavka’s story goes on. We plan to publish a book based on the plot and reissue Lesia Ukrainka`s book. We have already started developing toys and temporary tattoos with AR effect. Also, in parallel, the team is working with partners on the line of clothes, jewelry, and will hold fashion shows in Mavka style,” says Krokhmalna.
This all sounds quite ambitious. It seems you are creating a whole world of Mavka…
– Indeed. While developing this project, the producers involved experts on Ukrainian traditions, folklore, culture and national clothes, namely specialists from the Institute of Philology of the Kyiv Taras Shevchenko University, the Ivan Honchar Museum and the Ukrainian Fashion History Institute. To dive into the nature, traditions and culture of old Polissya [the region in Ukraine where the story takes place], the creative team went with expedition trip to the region`s old forests.
Fashion designer Olga Navrotska developed the costumes for the film`s heroes and has already presented the first official capsule collection of Mavka.
The soundtrack for the cartoon was written and performed by the music group DahaBrakha (the project of Vlad Troitskyi), which does not require a presentation outside of Ukraine.
In the future, more and more well-known and talented people will join the film. The whole team is so into this project. From our experience, if a team is totally engaged in a project, it will be 100% successful.
The film has received positive feedback from leading production studios. Can Mavka become another Disney princess?
– Mavka is not a princess, and that’s why this story has been so successful. She looks like an Amazon compared with the usual fairytale princesses. It is not a story about a princess and a prince. It’s about a heroine who faces a choice between her love and the protection of her forest; and she manages both.
She is not completely good or bad; Mavka is the true essence of a woman. She is good when in love, but when she is in danger, you better watch out. The Association of Women in Animation remarked on this theme and invited Mavka’s producer, Iryna Kostyuk, to take the floor at the first Women in Animation Summit at the Annecy animation festival.
What are other themes are highlighted in the film?
– We collaborated with the World Wildlife Fund to attract public attention to the endangered species of Ukraine. The Fund provides advice on the flora and fauna of the Polissya region, as well as plans to implement a number of projects to protect the centuries-old hills of Polissya and attract the attention of Ukrainian and world community to the environmental problems of Ukraine. Thus, many of these animals listed as endangered appear in the film.
And this is just the beginning. Mavka’s creative team has a lot of ideas on how to turn a project of a full-length animation film into a global brand, and we know how to show it to the international market.
Can you tell us more about your participation in the Creative Europe programme?
– Two years ago Media Resources Management opened the direction of international cooperation on specific audiovisual projects and so I came.
Since Ukraine is not a full member, we have limited access to the media component of the Creative Europe program, we decided to approach the issue from the other side and use the platforms financed by the program.
First, we have studied all the requirements and criteria for selecting projects for the European market to understand how we can get to it. It was important for us to understand what exactly Europe is waiting for, which content may be of interest for our new spectator.
We started small and took part in the competition for grants to take part in professional events (film and animation festivals and forums). In my opinion, this format is the most effective. Such meetings help me find new partners in my work, get acquainted with state and private foundations and TV channels. At the moment, we have received 10 intentions about cooperation from potential partners with Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, India for various projects. And 10 more from Ukrainian companies that would like to participate in the projects we are working on.
The last time Mavka was presented at the BE festival in Brussels, and in 2018, we will go on a second visit to present the progress and success of the project at the Cartoon Film in Bordeaux. This year we were selected out of 850 participants in the next category – “in development”. In the past year, Mavka was the first Ukrainian project presented at such a forum then in the category “in the concept”.
We are growing and constantly trying to talk about it and present it on the international market. This is also important for potential partners negotiated.
Platforms and pitching projects funded by the Creative Europe program, including CARTOON, give us such an opportunity. In such places there is a high concentration of the best professionals in the animation.
This is an ideal opportunity to present your projects to TV channels, producers, investors and find partners for co-production. The CARTOON team, for example, still provides ongoing assistance in preparing a competitive and effective pitch / presentation.
And for the opportunity to use such platforms and pitchers as CARTOON, we are grateful to the Creative Europe program.
What is the film’s budget?
– Our budget is €5 million; a quarter of this is provided by the grant from the Ukrainian State Agency on Cinema, another quarter is provided by FILM.UA Group. Accordingly, for the rest 50% of the budget, we are looking for partners and investors.
It should be noted that all projects on which we work are competitive by quality, and attractive for partnership by budget. This is one of our advantages.
How do you see the current state of animated cinema in Ukraine? Is the industry reviving?
– Ukrainian animation is really reviving. We are developing a pool of very talented animators. For example, many Ukrainian painters participated in the creation of Loving Vincent, which proves that there are talents on market. Also, Ukraine became a full participant in the largest European festival in Annecy [International Festival of Animation Films].
But the fact that the industry has been developing so well under the conditions of the previous years is a kind of miracle.
It is important to mention that state support is very important at this stage of development of the animation industry in Ukraine. State Cinema Agency supported the development of animation and it helped us. We hope that from 2018, with an increase in the budget allocated to cinema, animation will be supported.
What do Ukrainian animated films need to be successful in the European market?
– A unique story and quality animation are the most important things. No less important is the transparency of the company’s activities.
And then, of course, the more you take part in pitching and markets, the more will be familiar with you and more partners you can find. Practice shows that if you have already found a partner for the production of one film and you have a closed budget, you already have to go to the market with a new idea, based on your resource.
What are your team’s plans after Mavka’s release?
– We are planning the release of Mavka in 2020. Therefore, the team still has a lot of work. And we (MRM) will work for another two years for the picture to remain visible on the international market for successful distribution.
After that we will focus on new projects of FILM.UA Group. For example, the creative team of Mavka wants to continue to work on screen recordings of the stories of strong female heroines and the next in their line – animated picture “Roxolana”. In addition, we will continue to work on full-length feature films and series.
We will also try to submit to Creative Europe in the cinema literacy category. At this stage, we are looking for partners as we have extensive experience in cinema education. MRM has a profile project FILM.UA Faculty – our team organizes training programs, invites outstanding foreign lecturers such as Gilbert Schillton from the New York Film Academy and Ukrainian lecturers who teach profile subjects for a very diverse audience (children, professionals and beginners). ) Accordingly, we have an ambitious plan to develop a joint educational project with several European partners.
We try to approach the issue of entering the international market in a comprehensive and strategic manner. And again, the program “Creative Europe” here serves as the first helper.