EWA's News Interviews

EWA Mentoring: Interview with Sasha Kostina and Laura Briand, producers of PAMFIR

Carolina Mancini
Carolina Mancini

Pamfir, a success story of the EWA Network Mentoring Programme, nominated to the European Discovery Prize

Pamfir, the debut film by Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk, will be screened in competition at Torino Film Festival on December 1st, and, on December 10th we will discover whether it will be awarded the best European Discovery- Prix (assigned by FIPRESCI) at the European Film Awards Ceremony to be held in Reykjavik.

It can be considered to be the first ‘EWA baby’ as it is also the result of the association’s Mentoring Programme for emerging female producers that has been running since 2018, aimed at enhancing the career of 16 female independent audiovisual producers.

After the premiere at the Cannes Festival, in the Directors Fortnight session, Pamfir was recently released in France on November 3rd, with amazing press reviews.  “It was defined as the revelation of the year that would have deserved the Camera d’Or” says Laura Briand, the film’s French co-producer.

It was during the 2019 edition of the EWA Mentoring Program that Briand discovered this story: she was a mentor, and her mentee was Aleksandra (Sasha) Kostina, the Ukrainian producer who, at the time, was trying to set up the co-production and had been in talks with several potential French partners.
Their get-togehter was a fortunate combination, and yet a rare one, as Briand explains: “it’s explicitly stated that this program is not meant for the mentees to find senior co-producers but rather to get general advice and I didn’t want to break this recommendation.  But once I read the script, I immediately thought I can’t let this go to someone else! so I discussed it with Alexia Muiños Ruiz (editor’s note: director of programmes of EWA), and she encouraged me to go ahead.  When I finally spoke to Sasha, during the Cannes Film Festival, I found out that this was exactly what she had hoped for!”

Three years later the film premiered at Directors’ Fortnight: written and shot before the war, it is an impressive tragic thriller that explores universal themes such as unconditional love, family ties and the extreme consequences of the choices made in their name.  It is delivered through a very local story where tradition plays an important dramaturgical role yet it faces issues that are at stake in the dramatic present situation: resistance, borders and fighting for the future of our kids.

Laura Briand and Aleksandra Kostina during the gathering of EWA Mentoring in Thessaloniki 2019
Laura Briand and Aleksandra Kostina during the gathering of EWA Mentoring in Thessaloniki 2019

The film was greatly appreciated in Ukraine too...

At the Kyiv Critics’ Week International Film Festival, held at the end of October, it was nominated in all the six categories for feature films and won 5 of them.  It will be released in January.

Movie theaters are still open: how is cinema attendance during a war?

We have some Ukrainian releases starting this autumn, thanks to our military forces.

During the Kyiv Critics’ Week Festival we had two screenings (one of which was Pamfir's) that were interrupted by air raid sirens and due to problems with electricity because of the blackouts that we have now in Ukraine.  However, the Festival team had a generator so the screenings could take place: both were sold out and they were morning slots!

Ukrainian audiences want to see Ukrainian films: film festivals are being held in basements, concerts take place in underground stations, restaurants and coffee shops are working: people keep up their spirits, maintaining their energy and happiness to live and fight.

The same brave spirit was shown during the finalization of the movie…

LB: When war broke out we were finalizing the sound editing: the sound master was still in the studio in Kyiv that was continuously under bombardment.  We were worried about such a lot of work getting lost and wanted to secure it in Paris, but it seemed impossible.  One day the sound assistant, Oleksandr Verkhovynets, was brave enough to take his helmet and rush to the studio where we were able to save the hard disk and then send it over!

AK: Also, the director was supposed to go to Poland for the visual effects, the color grading and the sound mixing: he had a flight booked for February 26th, two days after the war began.  In those first months it was impossible to work, both physically and emotionally: at times like that you really appreciate co-productions and being able to count on reliable partners: we couldn’t have completed the film if it hadn’t been for them.

What’s the situation like now?

The military forces are struggling and now they have retaken more than 50% of the territory that was occupied by the Russian army at the beginning.  However, more than 40% of our power network has been destroyed: people my age can survive more easily or find a way to hide in the forest, but the weaker ones are in huge danger.  This winter they will suffer from a lack of electricity and water supplies.
Let me say that this is not about different ways of thinking or a clash of civilizations: there is no reason for this war.  But even if somebody finds one, there is definitely no reason for carrying out these acts of terrorism against civilians.  Every night in Ukraine people go to sleep not knowing if they will wake up the next morning because a missile could strike them: every morning we receive this kind of news.

Alexandra, your fight is on the cultural front…

AK: My duty is to make it possible for Ukrainian projects to continue to be produced and that can still happen; this year we are facing a blossoming of the Ukrainian film industry and every festival in the world is programming our film, but it’s understandable that, at one point, if things go on like this, there won’t be any left.

In order to search for new paths for the Ukrainian film industry, I need to develop myself as an independent filmmaker: I have applied to different programs and co-production markets and, in the last two months, I have traveled to more than 11 countries.

You were recently selected as the international recipient of the Golden Female Fellowship of the American Film Academy.  After EWA another one-year program combining direct support, mentoring and networking opportunities…

AK: The most important legacy from EWA was understanding that speaking to people, networking and learning from them is the best gift you can receive.  When I started my career, I took part in many workshops that focused on development, marketing and so on. But EWA Network Mentoring programme became a unique experience because it helped me focus mainly on myself as a producer, more than on the project itself: it encouraged me to think about what is important and how it can be built, and it’s very precious that you have a person like Laura that has great understanding about how things should be done, huge experience in communication, development, production and distribution.  A lot of stuff that I didn’t have as a junior producer. It’s a sort of ‘Sisterhood society’ that we have built: whenever we meet at festivals, we feel this warm hug, a very supportive atmosphere from the EWA team and Network.

LB: The good thing about this program is that it allows you to ask the questions you wouldn’t dare ask when you start a professional relationship with a co-producer.  You can’t be a producer and admit that sometimes you just have no ideas, it’s not easy or common to show your weaknesses.
Also, from a mentoring point of view, this is a perfect occasion for taking a step back and questioning ourselves about what we are doing.

AK: It’s encouraging to get feedback from people from other countries: this helped us to understand that we could make this project wider, more than just a local film.

The production involves Ukraine, France, Poland and Chile, and there are also co-producers from Germany and Luxemburg…

AK: Dmytro had met Giancarlo Nassi from Quijote Films when he was at the Cannes CineFondation with this project.  Later on, when applying for the Hubert Bals Fund, Klaudia Smieja-Rostworowska, the Polish producer from Madants, suggested Giancarlo with whom she had worked on Blanquita: he was enthusiastic about being part of the team and brought some very interesting ideas.  Besides, we had the ‘South America’ effect’ having been selected for many festivals in the region, and Oleksandr Yatsentyuk, the protagonist of the film, won best actor at the 18th Santiago International Film (Sanfic).

LB: Also, another participant in our EWA mentoring program group, Silvana Santamaria, from the German Soilfims, entered the project at the very last stage when we were selected for Cannes and were looking for other funds.   She introduced us to Adolf El Assal of Wady Films from Luxemburg who helped us to fill the gap.

The film is now sold in 15 countries including Ukraine, France, Poland, Slovenia, Italy, Indonesia, the Baltic Countries, Switzerland and Canada.