Despite the war, culture flourishes: Ukrainian film festival arrives in Prague

The Mriya International Film Festival will take place in Prague on Saturday, screening films made by Ukrainian directors while raising funds for the country. The festival had its premiere back in 2022 in Toronto, Canada, and the founder and organizer Kateryna Horina told me more about its expansion across Europe.

“I started Mriya In April 2022 shortly after the full-scale invasion began in Ukraine. It initially started because a friend of mine who had recently worked on a film suggested that we do a film screening to raise money for Ukraine. In April 2022, we had our first screenings in Toronto, Canada and it was fairly successful and we raised over $2,000 Canadian dollars. This past September, we returned to Ukraine and decided to revive the festival.

Kateryna Horina  (in the centre) | Photo: Mriya Film Festival

“This time, I have small team of my friends who are helping me bring the festival across Europe, and we are trying to feature different films from city to city. We also change the charity and foundation that we work with in each city. Right now, we’re working with the NGO Save Ukraine for the Prague iteration, and we will see what the other charities will be for the other European cities.”

Are you getting any support from the EU or other organizations to bring the festival to different European cities?

“Unfortunately no, we don’t have any kind of sponsorship or funding – everything we do comes from our own money. We’re working on finding some partnership or sponsorship opportunities right now because we really want to expand the festival throughout Europe and maybe even into the US.”

How has the war impacted the cultural industries in Ukraine? Of course there is a lot of emphasis on supporting Ukraine in terms of aid and post-war reconstruction, but are the cultural industries still being funded?

“During this war, I realized that Ukrainian culture has actually seen a lot of growth, and I think there are a couple of reasons for that. Before the full-scale invasion, and even after the events of 2014, a lot of Ukrainian artists worked in Russia, and would participate in the Russian cultural industry, so Ukraine didn’t have a super strong media presence. Of course we have our own artists and filmmakers, but they weren’t as recognizable as the ones who worked in Russia. Right now, Russian media is prohibited in Ukraine, so a lot of artists have just popped up out of nowhere. There are so many great new musicians that we’ve never heard of before, and the same goes for films.

Photo: Mriya Film Festival

“When we started the festival, it was really hard to find films to put in the program because the ones that were popular were hard to get copyright for because we weren’t a big festival. Right now, I see more and more up-and-coming filmmakers who are really eager to participate because they want to promote our culture and raise money for Ukraine. So surprisingly, Ukraine has really grown in terms of culture. But at the same time, the funding to cultural projects has decreased because most of the government money goes to our soldiers or to people directly impacted by the war.”

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