News from and about Ukraine & Ukrainians: Ukrainian Community Press Releases
BRAMA, August 19, 2002, 1 am ET
HARVARD STAGES U.S. PREMIERE OF FILM A PRAYER FOR HETMAN MAZEPA
|Scene from A Prayer for Hetman Mazepa|
On August 1, 2002 the Harvard Ukrainian Summer Institute (HUSI) staged the de facto North American premiere of Yuri Illienkos latest film A Prayer for Hetman Mazepa (Molytva za Hetmana Mazepu). Students, professors and the wider community invited for the occasion to Jefferson Hall at Harvard University had a unique opportunity to view the first big-budget (almost $US 2,5 mln.) picture made in Ukraine since independence even before the Prayer has been released for general viewing in Ukraine. Despite very short notice, and the relative quiet of the late summer, more than a hundred viewers showed up for the screening. There were Harvard Summer School students, university instructors and academics, intellectuals, representatives of the Ukrainian American community of Greater Boston, some even drove from as far away as Connecticut. Also varied was the cultural composition of the audience - besides Americans there were viewers from Ukraine, Canada, Poland, Italy, Belarus, and, even, Egypt.
To present the film the HUSI invited from Las Vegas, the composer of the score Virko Baley. In his brief introduction Mr. Baley, as if trying to pre-empt the main line of criticism and arguing with the as yet invisible critics, warned the viewers that what they were about to see was neither a historical epic, nor an illustration to a history book, nor a narrative in the usual sense of the word. He could not have been more right. For better of for worse, the Prayer is like nothing else Ukrainian cinema has ever produced. The subject Yuri Illienko has chosen concerns one of the most fascinating periods of Ukrainian and East-European history and the drama of a man of truly epic proportions. Hetman Ivan Mazepa, man of a dazzling array of acumen, the polyglot, the statesman, the military leader, the lover, has captivated the imagination of such writers as Lord Byron, A. Pushkin, V. Hugo, J. Slowacki, R.M. Rilke, B. Brecht, to name just a few. His ill-fated attempt to exploit the war between Muscovy of Peter I and Sweden of Charles XII and to regain the independence of Ukraine inspired generations of Ukrainian freedom fighters.
|Composer of the film score Virko Baley introduced the Prayer to the Harvard audience.|
Do you think the film is anti-Russian?
M. Flier: No. The cynical view of history and its characters is cast on all characters and events.
F. Argentieri: I do not think the film is anti-Russian. It is against the hegemonic and imperialist projects of Russia concerning Ukraine. Obviously it also related to todays situation, when Moscow seems to have decided to let go of the Baltic states and instead try to gain greater control over Ukraine. Not all Russians are portrayed as bad, Peter is indeed portrayed as bad, but theres a difference.
W. Baczynskyj: The film is not anti-Russian or anti-Ukrainian, it is more anti-power. When people are in power, they make deals, they do things that in some ways have very little connection to what the people whom they represent really need.
L. Hajda: The film obviously presents certain figures and events of Russian history in a light the Russians might not like. That however does not make the film anti-Russian. Some Ukrainians may not like the representation of Ukraine and Ukrainians in the film either, but that does not make it anti-Ukrainian.
Is the Ukrainian audience ready for such a film?
K. Kiebuzinski: Probably not, although it is definitely made for them. Besides a complicated narrative, the audiences may need to be familiar with a number of historical events and figures to fully appreciate the film. Ready or not, though, it would definitely be worth their while to see the film just for the provocative debates that it may inspire, be they about the role of history in contemporary society, the current political relationship between Russia and Ukraine, or the future of the Ukrainian film industry.
R. Szporluk: Watching this film I began to imagine what reactions it will generate we already know the official Russian circles hate it, but I am sure we may expect almost equally negative reactions although for different reasons from some traditionalist Ukrainian patriots. To them I would say: Lets face it. Do we want to forbid Ukrainian artists to do what artists in France and Britain, Italy and Germany, are free to do and actually do? Have we not answered yet the question Khvylovyi asked eighty years ago? Do we still think that for the Ukrainians Prosvita is enough, and that for Europe they are not ready even today? To me, the film proves that at least the Ukrainian cultural elite is safely in Europe. I suspect that more regular viewers in Ukraine than we think are also comfortably in Europe.
I would not worry whether or not the film is a commercial success. One should not forget that one of the most popular operas of all times Carmen was a total fiasco when it was first performed in Paris and the composer Georges Bizet died before learning that his opera was not that bad. The proof of the success of this film, and I agree here with what Virko Baley said in his introductory remarks, is that it does not leave you indifferent in terms of ideology, that it excites you as a work of art, it makes you mad, excited but you nevertheless want to watch it to the end. If you can get people to watch your film for two and a half hours even if at the end they say it was terrible you have already won.
L. Hajda: I do not think that the broad Ukrainian audience is prepared for the film or will like it or appreciate it. This would be my main reservation. The approach that Illienko has taken, a kind of Freudian foray into the human psyche is quite valid, but I am not sure that this is the best way to introduce Mazepa to the Ukrainian audience or to a non-Ukrainian audience. For the non-Ukrainian audience, this film will be incomprehensible because of the lack of necessary knowledge of history. As to the Ukrainian audience, it will certainly attract the attention and probably the applause of the intelligensia and cultural elites. For the general viewer it will be incomprehensible, perhaps off-putting. A film like this is best made as perhaps the third or fourth picture on the subject, after, shall we say, more realistic representations of the characters and historical circumstances have been circulated. It is a bit like introducing a public to classical music by starting with atonalism, or to art by focusing on, say, Cubism. Both would be best understood and appreciated after exposure to their more accessible musical or artistic antecedents.
I think that the Ukrainian audiences are probably looking for and need something like the Ukrainian analog of Jerzy Hoffmans With Fire and Sword, or Mel Gibsons Braveheart.
The screening of A Prayer for Hetman Mazepa at the Harvard Ukrainian Summer Institute became possible thanks to the assistance of Virko Baley, composer of its score and the cooperation of Ihor Didkovsky, producer of the film. It became the de facto North American premiere of the film and took place before its release for general viewing in Ukraine slated for September, 2002.
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