NewsNews20 April 2023

MIPTV: Ukraine TV Looks West for New Partners and Audiences

Article The Hollywood Reporter

Khrystyna Shkabar, a producer for the development and co-production of the 1+1 media group, participated in a meaningful discussion within the framework of the Ukraine Content Club initiative during the MIPTV international TV market. The Hollywood Reporter tells this in more detail.

Ukraine's producers are getting European backing for a number of ambitious series that put a distinctly non-Russian spin on their country's history and identity. More than a year after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian writers, directors and producers are well on their way to freeing the country’s television industry from its historic dependence on their large Eastern neighbor.

Before the war, cross-border cooperation had been the rule, with some of Ukraine’s biggest producers active in Russia, and its biggest stars household names in Moscow. Kyiv’s top TV talents often looked to Russian backers to bankroll their most ambitious projects, and to Russian viewers — in a country of 143 million, compared to Ukraine’s 43 million — to provide the bulk of their audience base.

No longer. As Ukraine’s military and its civilian population continue their heroic struggle against Russian aggression on the battlefield, the country’s biggest TV players are shifting focus westward, actively building bridges with broadcasters, financiers, and creative partners in Western Europe as a means to rebuild their shattered industry and make it independent of the aggressor nation to the East.

“Ukraine has become the center of new European stories,” says Kateryna Sheveliuk, executive producer of STB TV, a channel owned by Ukraine conglomerate StarLight Media. “We know the world observes and sympathizes with our pain, victories, and stories of humanity and love. [But] due to the economic consequences of the war on our industry, the creation of such stories can only occur in partnership with our European counterparts. The future of the Ukrainian audiovisual sector heavily relies on their support.”

StarLight, together with the country’s major producers and networks, has set up a production collective, the Ukrainian Content Club (UCC), to develop, finance, and distribute high-end Ukrainian series with the help of international partners. The model will see Western broadcasters, financiers, and production companies invest in a series of Ukrainian projects designed for global appeal. To insure the projects have international appeal, a group of industry judges, including executives from Lionsgate, ITV Studios, All3Media International, SevenOne Entertainment, and Anonymous Content, among others, picked with pitches should go forward.

At the international television market MIPTV in Cannes this week, the UCC presented the first three projects selected for the next financing round. They include the historic crime drama Nest of Snakes from Film.UA Group, the dark comedy Really? from Starlight Media, and the modern-day detective tale Trickerfrom 1+1 Media.

Nest of Snakes, picked as the overall favorite by a group of independent industry judges, is based on true events that occurred in the USSR in the 1980s. The story follows Detective Boot and Prosecutor Barats as they investigate a mass poisoning that claimed the lives of several children. Writer Anastasiia Lodkina, director Olexii Yesakov, and producer Kateryna Vyshnevska are behind the project.

“I think the social value of Nest of Snakes is high because it can appeal to young people in Western Europe with a message not just about what is happening in the news but about the history [of Soviet occupation],” said Marek Solon-Lipinski of Polish channel TVP, and one of the judges. “A show like this can make [western viewers] understand why what is happening is happening.”

Really? follows the life of a high school student named Vika, who has made elaborate plans to commit suicide on her 16th birthday: on Feb. 24, 2022. The Russian invasion throws those plans into disarray and the country’s reaction to the war forces Vika to reassess her attitude to life. The project is from writer/showrunner Eugen Tunick, and director Oleksii Taranenko.

Tricker has a classic noir set-up: after pulling off a successful heist, a robber hooks up with a woman he meets at a bar. In the morning, he wakes up to find her dead, and himself framed for murder. Showrunner Sergiy Karpenko, director Denys Tarasov, and screenwriters Andriy Vishtak and Artem Kobzan are behind the project.

All three series will now look to attach co-production partners throughout the summer, with an eye to beginning to shoot this year and deliver in 2024.

In picking the first UCC projects, says Khrystna Shkabar, producer of development and co-productions at 1+1 TV Channels, a 1+1 Media company, “we were looking for something where we could show scripts, where we had certain attachments in place, basically a ready-to-go status. These series have to be producible, and they had to be international for the global audience.”

Kateryna Vyshnevska, head of development and co-productions, for FILM.UA Group said the international backing for the UCC “is not a charitable contribution but an investment in new European stories that will captivate European viewers.” But, she admits, the Ukraine industry needs Western Europe if it is to rebuild and grow.

“The whole idea behind Ukraine Content Club is to build a bridge between the Ukrainian and the international audiovisual industry and to strengthen Ukraine as a high-end supplier of unique, original, and in-demand content for international screens,” she says. “We absolutely see Europe as a partner – both now and long term.”

There are already several European-Ukranian co-productions in the works, including In Her Car, a 10-episode drama from Starlight Media, and Narcosproducer Gaumont from France. The series centers around Lydia, a Ukrainian therapist who uses her car to transport civilians to safety. Each episode is a single ride, in which Lydia’s passengers open up to her about their stories and struggles.

A group of Western European backers, including Germany’s Red Arrow, and Scandinavian networks SVT, NRK, and YLE, are co-financing Those Who Stayed, a six-part anthology series inspired by true stories of people in Kyiv during February and March of 2022, following the start of the Russian invasion.

“The war in Ukraine has highlighted how much we [Ukraine and Western Europe] share already,” said Vyshnevska. “And with millions of Ukrainians now finding refuge in Europe more shared stories are born every day. Our vision is for UCC who enable the cooperation between Ukraine and Europe in a win-win way with the added benefit of helping the Ukrainian audiovisual industry in these challenging times.”

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