On May 28, the largest Ukrainian state film archive, the Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Center, was declared insolvent. In an official statement the Center announced it had not received state funding since January 2020, despite numerous attempts to contact the Culture Ministry and the Verkhovna Rada Committee for Humanitarian and Information Policy.
Following the announcement, the centre’s director, Ivan Kozlenko has resigned declaring that he refused to “manage the liquidation of the Dovzhenko Center after having dedicated 8 years of my life to its establishment and to the building of its international reputation.” Without the necessary funding, the largest Ukrainian state film archive faces closure, putting its collection of more than 6000 Ukrainian, Russian, European and American titles under threat.
Kozlenko’s resignation and the loss of funding for the centre has provoked strong reactions in the film community and among the representatives of the cultural sector in Ukraine. The Facebook publication of the statement gathered over 4000 reposts. And an open letter from the cultural community addressed to the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, the acting Minister of Culture and Information Policy Svitlana Fomenko, and Minister of Finance Serhii Marchenko has been signed by over 5500 film and creative industries representatives (1). An official petition has also been launched.
The online protest attended by Ukrainian filmmakers, film festival representatives, cultural activists determined to save Dovzhenko Centre was held on Saturday, May 30 via Zoom. During the meeting, participants noted that the absence of funding is due to unsatisfactory work of the Head of Ukrainian State Film Agency, Maryna Kuderchuk. On June 1, Ms. Kuderchuk gave a radio interview where she confirmed that all necessary documents required to provide the Centre with financing are not yet prepared by the Agency. “I think, you should not hype about this topic”, she added.
The international community has also reacted negatively to the news. The president of the EUNIC (European Union National Institutes for Culture) cluster in Ukraine (2) has published an open letter in support of the center, prompting the Ministry of Culture to resolve this crisis. Earlier, the Embassy of Switzerland in Ukraine also released an official statement of support for the Dovzhenko Center and its team of “professional, young and dynamic representatives of the new Ukraine.”
The news of Dovzhenko’s insolvency forms part of a broader narrative of decline for the country’s creative industries. Since 2018, three cinema theatres in central Kyiv were closed due to the government and city-council lack of political will and incompetence. Moreover, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the state funding for the cultural sector in Ukraine has witnessed drastic cuts.
On May 2, International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) addressed the letter to Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal where they expressed concern about the future of Dovzhenko Centre, “The lack of funding of this important Eastern European film archive directly threatens the country’s unique cultural heritage. It deprives future generations of Ukrainians of connecting with their artistic and cultural past, but also diminishes Ukraine’s cultural influence on the international stage.”
“We have time until June 4th, the day when Dovzhenko Center’s property will be seized”, said Ivan Kozlenko during the online meeting.
Over the past years, the former premises of Dovzhenko Center underwent a complete refurbishment and become one of the most dynamic cultural institutions in Ukraine. On an annual basis, it organises around 30 events and co-hosts 60-70 screenings per year, such as cinema concerts, “Nimi Nochi” (Mute Nights) festival, parties, discussions and concerts. The centre was also the host of Dykyi Theatre, the music lab KoRa, a book shop, choreography studio Ruban Production ITP, and ETER bar. In September 2019 the Centre opened the first Film Museum in Ukraine with the VUFKU. Lost and Found exhibition which was dedicated to the Ukrainian cinema industry in 1922-1930.
(1) Among them: Ukrainian Institute, Ukrainian Film Academy, Film Industry Association of Ukraine, SUK – Contemporary Ukrainian cinema, Odesa International Short Film Festival, DocuDays UA Film festival, Molodist International film festival, Mystetskiy Arsenal Cultural Center etc
(2) British Council Ukraine, Goethe-Institut Ukraine, French Institute in Ukraine, Polish Institute in Kyiv, Embassy of Spain in Ukraine, Embassy of Lithuania in Ukraine, Embassy of Portugal in Kyiv, Embassy of Hungary in Ukraine, Hellenic Foundation for Culture – Odessa, Czech center in Kyiv.