The material was created within the framework of the "Life of War" project with the support of thePublic Interest Journalism Lab and the Institute of Humanities (Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen).
"Lira" stands out from other cinemas, being rather a movie club for fans of modesty, retro and non-mass formats: silent cinema, art house, and festival films. Our editor Anya visited a lot of interesting events there, she has the warmest memories of opera films, and her association with "Lira" is connected with Iryna, who is like the personification of the film underground community. Before screenings of non-format films, Iryna often comes into the hall and says a few words about the film.
We met in the lobby of the cinema, it was snowing outside, but it was warm and cozy there. Over tea, we talked about the peculiarity of "Lira," the current film distribution, and what 2022 brought to life.
I was born and lived for 21 years in Mykolaiv, then moved to Kyiv to study. I entered postgraduate studies at the Institute of Journalism of Kyiv National University of Taras Shevchenko. I wrote a thesis, defended it, and stayed.
Before working at "Lira," I worked in the cultural field. At one time, we created an information agency for cultural industries. At the same time, I was a curator of various projects. In 2018, after the Porto Franco festival, I needed some rest, and my colleague was just leaving the position of director of the "Lira" cinema, so I met the management of the network of communal cinemas "Kyivkinofilm" (an association of 18 cinemas owned by the city of Kyiv - RK), presented the concept of the development of the place, and thus ended up here. My official position is deputy director of Kyivkinofilm KP for cultural projects and communications. That is, "Lira" is a platform for initiatives, but I’m also in charge of other projects related to our other cinemas.
We are the oldest operating cinema in Kyiv, the second oldest in Ukraine, the Kharkiv “Boomer” is considered the first. Today, besides me, there are five people working here: two administrators, two cinematographers, and one person who manages the household and cleans the space. So, our team is small. We have one hall, and we share this venue with the "Actor" communal theater.
The history of cinema dates back to 1913, the time of the film distribution boom. The building was constructed as an income house, and the cinema opened at once. "Lira" was originally a private cinema, but after the coming of the Soviet government, it became state property, and in the late 1930s, it began to specialize in children's movies. It was not closed even during the German occupation.
Kyivans in their forties still remember it as the Chapaev cinema, where they skipped classes or just watched movies when they were children. In 2015, "Lira" returned to its historical name and was reclassified: now it is a cinema of mainly Ukrainian movies.
But our repertoire also includes arthouse cinema, festival formats, and interdisciplinary projects in cooperation with embassies. For example, even during covid, we were one of the venues for the Month of Lithuanian Photography, we showed documentaries and held workshops.
"Lira" belongs to the "Kyivkinofilm" network, which includes the Shevchenko cinema, "Leipzig," "Florence," "Fakel," and "Start" cinemas. These are the ones that continue to work, although due to power outages. "Start" will now work only on weekends, but unfortunately, we had to stop the "Promin" children's cinema activities. Other cinemas are still closed, including "Kyiv Rus," where major renovations were to begin.
Among other communal cinemas, "Lira" is distinguished by its specialization. If others have a large share of entertainment content, we don’t have it here because we are a one-room cinema. This limits the possibilities to a certain extent, but it also allows us to structure our activities and discard the superfluous ones. We are a cinema located on the first floor of an apartment building, which means that we do not just have neighbors - they are real people who can flood us or inconvenience us. It is not easy, and we thank our neighbors that we do not have any problems with them.
As a utility company, we have to make money from our activities and, at the same time, provide a more or less affordable product to the city's residents. Earlier, our idea was to make cinemas accessible within walking distance, as many of them are in residential areas, and it worked well. Due to the content, availability, and price, the flow of people before the quarantine and the war were sufficient and justified, and we were doing fine. Although, of course, the profit was not enough for the complete revitalization of the premises, which needed it because they were built long before the independence of Ukraine: "Lira" was constructed in 1913, "Florence" - in the 80s (one of the youngest), "Start" and "Fakel" - in 60-70s, "Promin" - in 50-60s. We need serious investments to put things in order, which will be one of the key tasks for the coming year because if the activity has to be suspended, the premises must be conserved.
I love the history of the city, people, and spaces. It's not just a glimpse into the past, it's part of our present. Valerian Podmogilny lived somewhere above us. When the cinema was still private, he used to go there and watch silent movies. It is part of his city, his atmosphere. I hope one day there will be a memorial plaque here. Now it is a place of accessibility of history, meetings, and dialogues of modern film artists with their viewers, from the present and past. Such places are special, and they are actually in every European city, it is a European tradition. I remember how I was on vacation in Riga, and I laughed when my husband and I passed by a movie theater in the city center: on its facade was a poster of a documentary film club from the French Institute, which is held all over the world. On the same day, with the same poster, the show took place in Kyiv in my "Lira." And this is not a rental film, but a club system. That cinema was also built at the beginning of the last century, I think, in 1915. And when you see that the same event happens in the same old European cinema, you understand that this is a shared space.
When foreigners come to us, especially from European countries, I don't need to explain to them what kind of place it is because the same cinemas are basic in the European cultural space. It is necessary not to lose it.
Film distribution today
As of today, the production of films has stopped, and film distribution is suspended. The pre-quarantine stories were very positive in all aspects: independent cinema was developing, and there were good examples of mass cinema. Currently, this industry is primarily experiencing resource losses because it is an interdisciplinary and technological art. Loss of time is a big problem for cinema. It is a tragedy when an artist does not have the opportunity to buy paint and draw, but they can still take a pencil, but it is physically impossible to do the same in the cinema. You won't be able to do something if you don't have a camera, sound, etc. Processes stop, and it is not easy to restore them. Some are still filming, but their number is small. Working on a film takes more than one month. The space around us is changing, and films made before February 24, 2022, are already archive materials. You and I will no longer see this Ukraine, it is completely different. Bombed cities, many locations are gone, and everything has changed. These are serious challenges for art. The community today has a very negative assessment of Derzhkino's activities because it ignores this problem. And if we manage to overcome it, the prospects of Ukrainian cinema are great.
I think we will repeatedly witness Ukrainian films winning international awards. We have talented people, we need resource capacity.
In "Lira," we are currently showing few films. Generally, foreign films prevail in cinemas. The war made its corrections, and many films did not reach the audience, they were waiting for the start of distribution. February 24th was supposed to be the last day of the Winter Film Market, this is a professional event for representatives of film distribution and production companies, producers, directors, and actors, where they present the films that appear this year. In the first two days of this event, we discussed 10-12 movies, but most of them never reached the audience. If film distribution survives, we will first watch Ukrainian films made two or three years ago. Today, Ukrainian film distribution is more about supporting people than developing the industry.
We have regular viewers, they are people with certain values and, fortunately, there are many of them. There is a certain family atmosphere, mutual respect and trust. Our viewers — both young people and people of retirement age who are interested in cinema — love intellectual cinema, and documentaries, and support Ukrainian products. It is the intellectual core of Kyiv and not only of Kyiv because those who moved here because of the war joined the people of Kyiv. For example, in the summer, we did a special project for immigrant children and their parents, cooperating with the "Mystetska Vezha" NGO and the "I - Mariupol" hub, and 70 percent of them were from Mariupol. For three months, we introduced them to children's Ukrainian cinema and animation. Some parents became our viewers.
We have at least one free movie session almost every week. These are unreleased films because, in a situation of suspension of the industry, the creators of new films must receive at least some funds for their work. But we do special events. For example, our traditional festival, "Kyiv. With cinema in the heart". We showed two films by Mykhailo Ilyenko and arranged a meeting with him. With the support of the Polish Institute, the film "Difficult Brotherhood" about Polish-Ukrainian relations was shown. Together with the "Watch Ukrainian" NGO in October, we showed films for immigrants and the military in all cinemas of the network. These were absolutely free events.
The number of spectators decreased many times, especially when the blackouts began.
Cinema can heal, but it itself is in a state of survival.
Everyone does their best, trying to adapt to the shutdown schedules, but it is very difficult. We are waiting for generators, but will they solve the problem? Relatively, because gasoline also costs money. Fortunately, this year we received support from the Kyiv City State Administration. It is enough for us to continue our activities, but what will happen next? We can’t know for sure.
It is difficult to predict the situation after the war. In my opinion, the movie distribution system will change radically. For the third year now, the pandemic problem has existed in different waves, and the portrait of the viewer around the world has changed: even in the countries with the most powerful distribution, cinemas have switched to working on weekends because streaming companies are developing. And in two years, people got used to watching a movie on their phones. We can already feel the change in needs today, and there is also a war in Ukraine... The premises of our cinemas are communal property of the Kyiv community, so I hope that these institutions will be properly revitalized after the war. The cultural sector is an integral part of the existence of the state. No matter how powerful the Ukrainian military is, we see that the Russian identity is not devoid of piety, thanks to the powerful cultural policy pursued by this state. I hope that after the war, we will take these moments seriously and will support the cultural sphere, that we will still find resources to preserve these places to develop them after the victory.
Although I am not from here, my family is connected with Kyiv and the Kyiv region. The family on the grandmother's line comes from the Chornobyl region, a seven-kilometer zone from the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. During the Bolshevik revolution, some of them moved to the Kherson region. And now we are experiencing another family tragedy: during the modern war, our family village, where they moved, was occupied. Fortunately, it has already been returned under the Ukrainian flag, but the family is only gradually returning there. Why am I telling my family history? Because Kyiv has always been home to me, and moving here during my student years was an attempt to return a part of my history, to return to the homeland of my ancestors. When I moved, I didn't have a culture shock, I immediately felt comfortable in Kyiv. This is absolutely my city, I could hardly live in another one.
I live near the Dovzhenko film studio in Shuliavka. If we install memorial plaques on our house and the houses next to it, then the facades will not be enough because prominent figures lived there, from Yuriy Ilyenko and Larisa Kadochnikova to Did Panas. Some of the former employees of the Dovzhenka film studio still live there, as well as artists and writers. The courtyard is cozy, there are no other buildings around, and the windows overlook the Dovzhenko film studio. Sometimes it feels like you are in a village. The advantage is that it is quite close to the center.
At home, I can hear a lot of sirens. When there was a siren, I realized what had started. Generally, I knew that a great war could not be avoided, the events of 2014 clearly indicated this. I made the supplies, there was an ax by the door in case the Special Operation Forces came. My anxious suitcase wasn't quite as packed, but it could be done in 15 minutes. Although I had no intention of going. My family was already forced to flee once, and I will not flee anywhere else.
I did not leave Kyiv, although I saw many things that flew into Kyiv, including the rocket that hit the TV center. On February 24th, my husband and I helped our elderly neighbors go down into the bomb shelters (it turned out that no one had checked the shelter beforehand, and we had to cut the lock with a grinder), got to know everyone, and supported each other. Then they realized that if we spent time in the basement, we'd go crazy, so we went to volunteer: there's a bread factory nearby, and when the invasion started, the people there got stuck on the shift, so my husband and I started working there. We chose night shifts on purpose - so there was no opportunity to be distracted by the news, to see what had been bombed.
In the morning, we came to the shelter, by that time, people had already dispersed a little, and we went to bed. When I went to the store and saw our loaves (and this was a time when there was almost no bread), I had an incredible feeling: here people were taking our bread, which we made ourselves! The experience of a critical situation has shown that no matter how different we Kyivans are, we have a great potential for mutual assistance.
We experienced lots of emotions during this time. They were complex, it cannot be otherwise if part of your family is in the occupation. My cousins left Kherson Oblast in May, and my cousin joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine and died. At the end of her life, my grandmother was forced to move to Kyiv from Mykolaiv due to heavy shelling, which caused her stress and accelerated her death. I lost many friends.
But I'm keeping up, I came up with a slogan on February 25: the nobility stands and will stand! I repeat it to myself and my friends.
We held events in the cinema even in March, although it was closed - for movie people: actors and directors who needed communication. We held a closed premiere of the "Space" movie (director - Dmytro Tomashpolsky, producer - Olena Demianenko), and the dress code was suits and evening dresses (fortunately, there were no air alarms that day). Actually, this was our idea with Olena Demianenko: not to postpone life for later because our little joys cannot be taken away by those who decided to make fun of our state and our dignity. Also, even before the opening of cinemas, together with the Lithuanian embassy, we organized an evening in memory of the director of the "Mariupolis" movie Mantas Kvedaravičius.
For the first months, I didn't leave the idea of literary podcasts for External independent evaluation, which my friend Olga Olkhova-Sukhomlyn and I launched back in January. The team continued to work, although it was scattered, and some went abroad. In October, we launched the LitCom mobile app. It is difficult to coordinate, but everything works. It seems to me that it is necessary to be creative in order to remain in a state of hope and believe in victory.
I always take the subway to the Golden Gate, and on October 17th, I was coming out of the subway after a rocket attack, and two guys were playing some French tune. It was so beautiful: the space where they played was full of falling leaves of different colors - yellow-hot, half-green, even chestnut. An employee of the city communal services is standing with a broom. The girls are coming. And I had the impression that it was a slow-motion shot as if someone was filming it all, some kind of beautiful light cinema as if everyone was twirling in a dance. I stopped and just looked for five minutes. The city, despite everything, gives you hope.
It is quite difficult to adapt to light cutoffs, Shulyavka is constantly without electricity. But on Moldovska Street, close to us, they opened an invincibility point. Once I found a very moving picture there: it was around four in the evening, it was getting dark, some parents had brought a board for their children, and two boys were connected to online learning. Maximum fifth grade! If boys aged 10-11 sit down to study at the invincibility point, then this country cannot be defeated. If children can adapt - we can adapt as well.
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