Yuriy Shylov - Despair and Hope of Post-Soviet Ukraine CineSud Magazine journalist Sofia Piven interviewed the Ukranian filmmaker Yuriy Shylov.
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Yuriy Shylov - Despair and Hope of Post-Soviet Ukraine

CineSud Magazine journalist Sofia Piven interviewed the Ukranian filmmaker Yuriy Shylov.

Today CineSud Magazine is going to introduce a Ukrainian director, member of the European Cinema Academy and winner of Docs in Progress at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2018. His name is Yuriy Shylov. He shares with our readers how his passion for filmmaking developed, he remembers his student years, tells how he started the production of his award-winning film Projectionist and explains what he appreciates the most at film festivals.

"I love to observe. My documentary film only builds on observations."

27 juli 2020

Discovering the passion for filmmaking

In the 1990s, when Yuriy Shylov was a child, there was a video rental boom in Ukraine. After the collapse of the former Soviet Union, VHS tapes became extremely popular, especially among the young people who were not allowed to watch foreign films or listen to foreign music before, because of the strict Soviet policies. Yuriy remembers: "As a kid I was an introvert. I did not attend a kindergarten. It was dangerous to walk down the street because my neighborhood was full of drug addicts and criminals. So I used to spend most of the time at home with a bunch of VHS tapes watching movies all day long." 

Yuriy had a huge variety of films from old Soviet films to American B-movies, which were low-budget commercial motion pictures with dismembered bodies in the frame. The director laughs: "Unfortunately, I watched Thursday (1998), a crime and thriller comedy, about 20 times. I think, by the age of 9, I already knew several ways to get rid of a corpse."

At that time, Yuriy's family bought their first VHS camera. The director's parents allowed him to film everything that used to happen in the family. Also, he was pleased to watch these videos on the TV screen afterwards. Sometimes Yuriy even filmed his parents fighting. Now the director realizes that the subjects you film might be distorted by a hidden camera. Yuriy Shylov jokes: "Until the age of 17 I officially had 7 brain concussions. Maybe that's why I chose this profession." 

Student years

Studying at the Kyiv National I.K. Karpenko-Kary Theatre, Cinema and Television University was an extremely great time of Yuriy's life. He used to spend days and nights in this place without any knowledge of what happened in the world around him. It was a marvelous opportunity for the director to focus on himself and his studies. 

Yuriy remembers: "We had a task for a dramaturgy class to overhear strangers in public places, zoos, post offices, courts and so on. Sometimes I still listen to people in cafés and write down interesting phrases and details. I love to observe. My documentary film only builds on observations." 

First steps

Yuriy's filmmaking path is not very different from an average graduate's one. He comments: "Slowly, you try to make people around you fall in love with your idea and share your passion. As a result, some professionals, friends and family volunteered to invest their time, talents and skills as well as emotional support. To return the favors, I delivered pies and rearranged furniture etc. And everybody treats you like a village idiot. I made a fiction short film that way."

After his graduation, Yuriy Shylov teamed up with a fellow Karpenko alumni and joined the Contemporary Ukrainian Cinema NGO. The goal was to show and promote their own films everywhere: in bars, open airs, at festivals, Ukrainian cinema days and so on. 

Some time later Yuriy Shylov started to work on his full-length documentary Projectionist where he was multifunctional from the very beginning. Slowly he was making useful contacts. He met his future Ukrainian producers, in association with which he found Polish co-producers. They submitted the project to various workshops and pitches.


When Yuriy Shylov was a student, he used to go to the old cinema in downtown Kyiv quite often. At some point the director noticed that this place is a separate universe, like Marvel, with its superheroes. Sometimes he even was the only visitor, which is why Yuriy expected that this cinema would vanish in several years. At a certain moment, he realized that life in the projectionist's room is far more interesting than the movies shown on the screen and thought that it was about time to make a documentary film exactly about that: A projectionist. 

The protagonist in in his film is Valentine, an eccentric projectionist. For 44 years, he had been working in one of the oldest cinema's in Kiev’s city center. In his projection booth he drinks vodka, dances with the girls from the next door casting agency or cuts his friend's hair. Every day at work seems like another adventure. It all comes to an abrupt end when a fire breaks out in the cinema and Valentin is forced to retire. Still, he fights desperately to find a new meaning in his life in a rapidly changing country.

The director says: "As far as I am concerned, the story about a projectionist showing a movie just for one person in an old cinema is the story of Sisyphus. One day, he no longer had to roll a stone up the hill."

Answering the question whether he is satisfied with the results of the film, Yuriy says: "There is a book called On Death and Dying written by the psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. She describes the emotional reactions of seriously ill and dying people and divides them into 5 main stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It took 5 years in total to produce Projectionist. The post production ended about a year ago. So I'm already at the last stage.”

By the way, also the Ukrainian government has taken notice of the film, therefore it received financial support of the State Film Agency of Ukraine. Yuriy comments: "I had done a short film with the same characters before. It only had festival distribution in Ukraine and won several audience awards. The feature is based on the short version. It was much easier to pitch the full-length with such a background."

Inspiration from a family story

One day, as a child, Yuriy found a VHS tape at home that he had never seen before. It was on the shelf under his dad's t-shirts. Of course, he suspected something forbidden and immediately turned it on. However, there was Yuriy's grandfather sitting quietly, drinking tea and eating. In the next frame, Yuriy saw him in a coffin in an empty room. Yuriy comments: "My father was recording the last weeks of his father's life. I didn't know that grandpa died. My parents had told me that he went to the forest. Of course, they could have made up something better."

The tape had always been hidden in his father's clothes and everybody was pretending that it was not there. After years Yuriy now understands that this episode had a great influence on him. He comments: "Due to that tape I wanted to record a post-soviet atmosphere and a generation of people that could change in a few years." He understood that he could not pass by this tragicomedy about aging, about retirement and about that energy of optimism when everything is passing away. 

Favorite festivals

Yuriy's favorite film festivals are those where he has his films screened. It means they share his views and values and allow the director to meet the audience. The director says: "Karlovy Vary IFF was a kind of a 'godfather' for Projectionist because the year before the premiere we won the Docs in Progress Peer Pitch here. This event is usually held during the festival for new documentaries among which the most promising one is chosen."

It was a great honour for Yuriy Shylov to have a world premiere at Karlovy Vary in 2019. They have an extremely high level of organization, an enormous amount of screenings, interviews, etc. The director laughs: "I lived in a luxury hotel, rode BMW and gained three kilos."

After Karlovy Vary Yuriy went to a small festival in Georgia. He just had a USB-stick with him to screen the film. There were 8 people at the screening, including the jury members. The director had to keep the door closed all the time to prevent the outdoor light from appearing on the screen. After the screening, Yuriy discussed the film with two of the visitors. He comments: "I was happy to be present at both of these festivals, I had a great time, both of them filled my life with a new meaning. In Georgia I gained three kilos as well."

Yuriy's further plans to take part in festivals were definitely disrupted due to the Corona quarantine. Just like other directors he missed the whole festival spring and a lot of his flight tickets have expired, but this period was good for the development of his next project. He says: "I would lock myself at home anyway to write a script and look for partners for my new fictional feature film. The situation even helped me not to feel guilty about staying at home for so long. There are still many things to be done in this changing time.

(c) All visual material is used with the filmmaker's permission.

Over de auteur: Sofia Piven

Sofia Piven is currently studying Journalism and International Relations at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. She has always been interested in writing articles and after finishing school and entering the university she wrote for local newspapers and magazines. Since January 2018 she regularly writes articles for CineSud magazine.

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