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Cinematic Ukraine: Getting Ready for the 5th Odessa International Film Festival

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Back in May of this year, the Odessa International Film Festival embarked on a crowdfunding campaign to raise $25,000 through Indiegogo. To quote festival organizers, their financial goal was needed to "maintain the high level of the line-up and hold the Ukrainian National Competition," an integral part of the festival.

Needless to say, they reached their target and even surpassed it by a bit, and as a result the Odessa IFF will be taking place in just a few days, from July 11th through the 19th. There is no better time for a film festival in Ukraine, even if it would appear to be during such a volatile moment in the country's history. I'm with the Odessa IFF team all the way when they write, "we believe that cinema is a powerful tool of a civil protest, it unites people of all nationalities and is able to make a positive change as well as to raise the spirit of a nation. That's why the Odessa IFF should take place in Ukraine this year!"

All we have to do is read a newspaper, click on Twitter or turn on our TVs to know we are living in an increasingly divisive and divided world. Sometimes I notice people's eyes glaze over when I say my sole purpose in writing about world cinema is to unite, create a bridge of cultural understanding through the Seventh Art. Today, as illogical battles rage on in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Israel and even Ukraine, my mission seems far off, unpopular, and impossible. But when I read a statement like the one above put out there by filmmakers, who insist on going against all the odds with a festival they believe in deeply, while also reaching out to the world asking for their support -- and receiving it in return! -- I'm encouraged. We may turn out to be OK after all.

This year's Odessa IFF will open with Paolo Virzi's Il Capitale Umano, or Human Capital, which stars Valeria Golino and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and screened in the US earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival. It will close with Vincent Lannoo's Les Ames de Papier, Paper Souls starring Stephane Guillon and Julie Gayet. But the grandiosity, the artistry of the festival also lies in those seven days in between.

There will be screenings of two 2014 Cannes favorites, the French Party Girl by Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis -- this year's Camera d'Or winner -- and Winter Sleep by Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Hitchcock's Blackmail and Fantomas by Louis Feuillade will be shown on the big screens of two grandiose outdoor venues, the Potemkin Stairs and the Lanzheron descent. There will be international features, shorts, Ukrainian films and world documentaries all vying for prizes and audiences. I'm particularly curious at how Jehane Noujaim's Oscar-nominated The Square will be received, when it screens in the "Way to Freedom" section, alongside other filmed documents to a world in revolution, such as Maidan and Velvet Terrorists. The tagline of the section is a vintage quote by South African activist Albie Sachs, yet one oh-so actual today: "All revolutions are impossible until they happen; then they become inevitable."

And then there are Galas, as no self-respecting festival happens without a few of those, and masterclasses, such as one online with Darren Aronofsky and a Q & A with Stephen Frears, who is also the festival's Guest of Honor at this momentous fifth edition. A tribute series of screenings of films by the master filmmaker include My Beautiful Laundrette and his latest Philomena.

The festival's concurrent film market features a few talks on the business of filmmaking, a pitching session and a section for works-in-progress. In fact, two of the films in the festival this year, both by Ukrainian filmmakers, were seen as works-in-progress in last year's market at Odessa IFF. They are My Mermaid, My Lorelei by Nana Dzhordzhadze and The Guide by Oles Sanin.

Finally, I leave you with the inspiring words of Festival President Viktoriya Tigipko, who sent chills up my spine when she disclosed:

This year has been very difficult and at the same time momentous both for the country and every one of us. Our team is doing the very best for this festival to happen and be held on a top level. We have been supported in our aspiration by our colleagues: over 250 influential representatives of international film festivals, including Cannes, Berlin and Venice, have outspoken their support of our festival. Their support demonstrates that OIFF, during the five years of its existence, has exceeded the level of a national event and made its way to an international film festivals agenda.

For more details, as well as the full program of films, check out the Odessa IFF website.

Image courtesy of the Odessa International Film Festival, used with permission.