Marina Stepanska • Director of Consider Vera
“It’s important for us to stay subjective in the huge world of European voices because for 70 years before this, our stories were told by Russians”
by David Katz
- We spoke to the winner of this year’s Eurimages Co-Production Development Award at IFFR Pro’s CineMart, who is mounting a personal story of female solidarity in 1980s Ukraine
Following the award she picked up at IFFR Pro’s CineMart (see the news), we had the chance to catch up in more detail with Ukrainian director Marina Stepanska, who is preparing her second feature, Consider Vera, after debuting with 2017’s Falling [+see also:
interview: Marina Stepanska
film profile] in Karlovy Vary’s East of the West competition. Whilst she was speaking to us from Amsterdam, she has also been in the thick of documentary making in Kyiv with the Babylon’13 film collective, making work that aims to unveil the truth, in contrast with our common understanding of the ongoing war with Russia.
Cineuropa: Could you introduce the project, and offer an idea of the story and its themes?
Marina Stepanska: We developed the project before the war and were about to get some Ukrainian money, but now that’s impossible. So it took me a year to reconsider everything, and then rewrite. It is still a simple story which has nothing to do with the war or the current situation, but I still consider it an important story because I hope it will let other audiences understand Ukrainians – where we are from and who we are. I concentrated more on womanhood.
It’s based on autobiographical events that shaped me as a woman as well. It’s set in a rural area, a closed society near Kyiv, in the 1980s, when it was still Soviet Ukraine. It was a very conservative society in a village where everything was more or less conducted by women, despite its patriarchal nature. But women had power there in terms of making relationships and connections and so on.
The story centres on Vera, whom I call a “wild woman” because she’s a very confident, free soul. She’s supposed to be a teacher – that's how she got a house in the village with her husband – although she walks through the village in a swimsuit because she came from the seaside area of Ukraine, so it’s normal for her. And there is a kid, Nina, sent to live with her grandmother, who brings her up with a tyrannical, religious mindset. But Vera provokes something in Nina and becomes a role model for her. And then, because of Vera's behaviour, a small tragedy happens. Her husband dies in an accident. Rumours start. So Vera's life is completely ruined in the village. But the impact is actually beneficial to Nina because she has to face reality and finally attempt to bond with her mother.
I would like to tell the story as a mosaic of portraits, from the perspective of the other women. There will be different truths, and it will help reveal different, small biographies – like suddenly, a supporting actor will become a main one, and will have their own place in the story.
How will the sum of €20,000 assist with the next stage of the film’s development?
I was so glad to get those awards [the project also scooped the ArteKino International Award]! Currently, Ukrainian filmmakers who want to make feature films are mostly not eligible for any [European] fund, because we must first show that we have secured national money. The Ukrainian State Film Agency doesn't have a budget any more. So now, we must somehow cooperate with producers from other countries. For me, as a director, I can make a contract with foreign producers, but this system is completely unfair to Ukrainian producers. That's why we started thinking that a major producer, whom we are still looking for, could hire a Ukrainian one as a delegate producer. It’s really important for us to stay subjective in that huge world of European voices because for 70 years before this, our stories were told by Russians. Regarding this money, there will be some travel expenses for the script, for consulting and so on – also scouting for the location. So it will be useful for that.
How are you considering the production logistics at this stage? Are you planning to shoot near Kyiv some point later this year?
It may not be this year. Regarding that period architecture style, we still have appropriate buildings around Kyiv and in other regions as well. But we’ll consider options in the western part of Ukraine also. Or something similar around the border: Poland or Slovakia, for instance.
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