Ruslan Batytskyi • Director of The Blindsight
“We hope that our film will be an important part of the discussion and vision of post-war Ukraine”
- BERLINALE 2023: The Ukrainian project homes in on a war veteran whose dedication to coaching a goalball team for the Paralympic Games is called into question
Ukrainian director Ruslan Batytskyi spoke to Cineuropa after winning the Eurimages Special Co-production Development Award, which includes a cash prize of €20,000, at the most recent Berlin Film Festival (see the news). The story of The Blindsight follows a 35-year-old war veteran whose dedication to coaching a goalball team for the Paralympic Games is called into question when he discovers that his son is beginning to lose his eyesight. The project is being produced by Olha Beskhmelnytsina and Natalia Libet for 2Brave Productions.
Cineuropa: Could you give us some background information about your project?
Ruslan Batytskyi: The Blindsight is a father-son story inspired by my own personal experience of overcoming the distance to create a closer connection with my father. Moreover, it is a film about losing one’s sight and restoring vision. It explores topics such as blindness, family relationships for a person with a disability, and the rehabilitation of veterans. The visual style is informed by the portrayal of the “blindsight” phenomenon through any means possible. We look at the post-war world through the eyes of a boy who is aware of his vision loss but is eager to learn how to live with it. We also see through the eyes of a father who is so afraid of blindness that it blinds him to what is most important. Through the game goalball, which is a variation of handball for people with vision loss, we showcase the hope and rarely seen side of life of people with disabilities: their vitality, strength, sincere sense of humour and profound perspective on life.
What is the current state of development, and what are you aiming at for the near future?
The film is currently at the development stage, and I wrote the first draft of the script just before the outbreak of the war. Since then, the project has also won the Best Project Award at the Baltic Event Co-Production Market in Tallinn – that was last year [see the news]. As a writer and director, I also received a scholarship from the Deutsche Filmakademie to continue researching the characters and the story. For that purpose, I have undertaken several expeditions and done some documentary filming on the frontline, I’ve continued to develop relationships with Ukrainian Paralympic athletes and goalball players, and I’ve worked with rehabilitation and prosthetics programmes in Ukraine. I was able to bring together important observations, which I am incorporating into the new treatment. Currently, I am restructuring the story and have already started the second draft of the script. After a promising meeting at the Berlinale Co-Production Market, we are developing relationships with potential partners in Norway and some other countries, and are planning to conduct location scouting in Tromsø in May.
What was your participation in this year’s Berlinale Co-Production Market like?
It was an amazing and fruitful experience. We had over 40 meetings, some of which have turned into possible partnerships. We have a strong intention to make our film with the involvement of international co-producers, talents, studios and locations. Since the plot involves several games against foreign sports teams, we plan to shoot in different countries, such as Poland, France, Germany, the UK, the Baltics and others. The idea is to involve Ukrainian crew and actors as much as possible in order to support Ukrainian filmmakers, despite the current obstacles. The budget itself depends on the partnering countries. We are looking for co-producers, a sales agent, distributors and festivals, as well as private and public funds. Our story is timely and strong, and should be told throughout the world. The Berlinale Co-Production Market is an important step towards this goal.
How are you planning to use the Eurimages Co-production Development Award?
We plan to use it to finish the script, which will include attending one of the European screenwriting labs. Meanwhile, we will continue development by finishing the location scouting and the casting of the actors (some of whom will be selected from among athletes with disabilities). The project is based partially on true events and is being carried out in close cooperation with the Paralympic Committee of Ukraine and the country’s national goalball team. We intend to develop this collaboration and connect with national Paralympic committees from partnering countries as well.
At present, how difficult is it for a Ukrainian project to be developed?
The war has changed everything in Ukraine. State support for film production is on pause, and filmmakers can only rely on foreign grants and programmes if they want to continue working on their projects. Some filmmakers went to the frontlines as soldiers, while others do volunteer work and film documentaries about the events. Olha Beskhmelnytsina and I made several short documentaries in 2022, including about what was happening on the frontlines in Irpin and Bucha.
With international support, we were able to continue work on The Blindsight. We continue to build partnerships in Europe, and intend to finish the script in 2023 and start shooting this year. We strongly believe that cinema can help people envision the future. This is why The Blindsight is set three years after the war is over, and we hope that our film will be an important part of the discussion and vision of post-war Ukraine.
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