State Cinema vs Dovzhenko Center: what is going on?

State Cinema vs Dovzhenko Center: what is going on?

On August 17, the National Oleksandr Dovzhenko Centre (Dovzhenko Centre) announced that the State Film Agency had issued an order to reorganise the centre. According to the order, all films from the Centre's collection will be transferred to the state organisation Scientific Center of Cinematography of Ukraine. In addition, the animation copyright will be transferred to the Ukrainian Animation Studio.

This decision outraged both Dovzhenko Centre employees and civil society. Ukrainians created a petition on the website of the Cabinet of Ministers calling to cancel the reorganisation. The petition gained the required votes, but the government's response did not satisfy the citizens. We will tell you what is happening around Dovzhenko Center now.

What is Dovzhenko Center?

The National Oleksandr Dovzhenko Centre (Dovzhenko Centre) is the largest film archive in Ukraine, which stores over 9000 titles of feature, documentary, animated Ukrainian and foreign films and thousands of archival documents on the history of Ukrainian cinema.

The Dovzhenko Center unites a modern film storage, a film copying laboratory, a film museum, a paper film archive, a media library and a publishing house and preserves, promotes, researches and disseminates the national film heritage in Ukraine and abroad. The Center is also a member of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF).  

Government response to the petition

The authors of the petition state that the State Film Agency of Ukraine entrusts the cinematic heritage of Ukraine to a de facto "sleeping" institution - the Scientific Center of Cinematography of Ukraine, which since its foundation in 2011, has not carried out any activities, has no staff or relevant competencies. Furthermore, the reorganisation order does not mention the film archive and museum collections of the Dovzhenko Center, which are part of Ukraine's archival and museum funds. 

The authors add that the transfer of the collection of the national film archive, which has a reputation in the world, to a fake institution is a blow to the Ukrainian cultural heritage and the international image of the Ukrainian authorities.

The Government responded to the petition and noted that the Dovzhenko Centre is a non-profit enterprise, which was included in the list of cultural and art institutions that receive financial support from the state budget. The Centre operates at the expense of state subsidies and income from renting premises. 

The Government also says that the administrative and other expenses of the Centre exceed the amount of budget funding in the section of labour costs, including social activities. Moreover, given the unprofitability of the Dovzhenko Center, its legal successor of property and non-property rights and obligations will be the state enterprise Ukrainian Animation Studio, which was liquidated in 2019 and became part of the Centre. 

In general, during the Centre's reorganisation, three new enterprises will be created on its basis, promising to take on employees of the Dovzhenko Centre. However, the Government adds that "taking into account the public interest in the issues raised in the petition, the State Film Agency was instructed to study them further and inform the public about the results." 

What do they say in Dovzhenko Centre? 

Ukrainian director and film expert of the Dovzhenko Centre Stanislav Bytiutskyi says that the Centre knew only about the intention to restore the Ukrainian Animation Studio. The news about reorganising and transferring the film collection was a "blow under the breath". The State Film Agency should have discussed the idea of reorganisation with the Centre's representatives or the film community. 

In September 2022, the Dovzhenko Centre and representatives of the animation community held a round table on the restoration of the Ukrainian Animation Studio, the situation in the industry and the feasibility of its restoration, to which the State Film Agency employees were invited, but they ignored the invitation. 

According to the film expert, during the roundtable, it turned out that the State Film Agency did not communicate with representatives of the animation community about the need to restore the studio. The animators themselves consider it inappropriate because the work needs to be started from scratch: all the premises are in disrepair and require significant investments.

"The State Film Agency wants to save costs, but instead of one successful organisation, it creates three, which will require additional funds and looks extremely inexpedient," says Stanislav Bytiutskyi.

The Dovzhenko Centre sees a solution to the situation by granting the Centre the status of a national film fund, public and transparent discussion with the involvement of experts in the field and government representatives and further preservation of the Centre's integrity.

The issue of preserving the film archive and film collection is also open. The Dovzhenko Center is still determining what will happen to it after the reorganisation. 

The State Film Agency reported that the Film Archive, stored at the Dovzhenko National Center, would be transferred to the State Film Fund of Ukraine. This institution exists only in theory, but they plan to create it by December 2023. The State Film Fund of Ukraine will ensure the accounting and storage of archival sets of film source materials, film copies of films, the use of the information contained in them and the formation of a national film fund. 

The decision on the need for reorganisation in the State Film Agency was explained by the fact that after the transfer of the Dovzhenko Center to the agency, they found that the centre was neither a cultural institution nor an archival institution, so it needed reorganisation.

Problems between the State Film Agency leadership and the film community

In May 2020, the Dovzhenko Centre declared itself insolvent and the current administration of the State Film Agency, represented by Maryna Kuderchuk, incompetent. The Dovzhenko Center believes that the Ministry of Finance did not approve the passport of the program project due to sabotage by the State Film Agency. 

However, the appointment of Kuderchuk as the head of the National Film Agency is considered "non-transparent" in the film community. Journalists of Suspilne wrote that Kuderchuk was appointed to the post after the National Agency for Civil Service rejected the candidacy of Yulia Sinkevych, who had passed all stages of the competition. Still, at the last moment, she was rejected due to unsatisfactory results in the "management of efficiency and development of human resources" category. 

Suspilne noted that Maryna Kuderchuk was a less-known candidate. From March 2017 to 2019, she held the position of deputy director, then director of the Dovzhenko Cinema and Concert Hall in Zaporizhzhia. Director of cinemas Serhii Zlenko and producer Olha Beskhmelnytsyna reached the interview stage together with Kuderchuk. They received more points than Kuderchuk.

In October 2020, 200 representatives of the film community signed a collective appeal to the Minister of Culture and the Prime Minister demanding to dismiss Kuderchuk and dissolve the Council for State Support of Cinematography.

New management appointed, searches and meeting with the Ministry of Culture

After the Dovzhenko Center filed a lawsuit against the State Film Agency in late October, the State Film Agency suspended Olena Honcharuk from her duties as acting director general of the Center. Yulia Kazhdan, who did not work in the film industry, was appointed in her place.

Employees of the Dovzhenko Center negatively perceived the appointment of the new management and did not allow Kazhdan to work. After that, law enforcement officers came to the premises of the Dovzhenko Center with searches, who, according to the communication manager of the Dovzhenko Center, were looking for documents related to the developers. 

At the same time, Yulia Kazhdan wrote a letter of resignation. Kazhdan explained her decision by bullying, the humiliation of honour and dignity, and threats. In her place, the State Film Agency appointed Andriy Alfyorov to act as a director and film critic temporarily. 

After that, the Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko held a meeting with the leadership of the State Film Agency and Dovzhenko Center, where they agreed to stop the reorganisation in the way it is happening now; to leave the foundation and the museum as an integral property complex; to appoint a transparent competition for the director of the Dovzhenko Center; to apply to the State Audit Office to conduct a full audit of the Dovzhenko Center; to start the process of granting the national Dovzhenko Center de jure status.

At the end of November, the first preparatory hearing in the case of the Dovzhenko Centre against the State Film Agency was held. However, the judges postponed the hearing to December 20, 2022, and later to January 24, 2023. The competition for the new head of the Dovzhenko Centre is currently underway. 

Why is it essential to preserve the Centre?

The Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre is not just a state film archive of Ukraine; the Centre preserves, researches, promotes and restores the national film heritage. The Centre is a member of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), and the film collection is recognised as a national cultural heritage.

Film critic Anna Datsiuk says that the Dovzhenko Centre is an important institution and one of the most successful cases promoting Ukrainian culture among young people. "This is our history and heritage, which the Centre's team managed to draw attention to. The films from the film fund they want to take away have become popular thanks to years of fruitful work," says Datsiuk. 

Reorganisation of the Centre may lead to the fact that Ukraine's membership in FIAF may be suspended. Dovzhenko Centre is a world-renowned institution whose reorganisation will hit the cultural image of Ukraine.

The film critic believes that the extent to which Ukrainian society has defended the centre gives hope that systematic changes in the State Film Agency can be achieved. "The main thing is not to stop the process and continue the pressure," she emphasises.