Ukrainian Sheriffs, a real-life story
“This film aimed to tell the story of a few people from the Ukrainian countryside, but instead it portrayed the faith of a nation during a turning point in its history”
Vitaly Mansky (film director)
When the makers of the film Ukrainian Sheriffs approached Sara Božanić, our CEO, at the transmedia coaching event at East Doc Platform in Prague 2014 with the aim of distributing and promoting their film in a creative way, a wonderful partnership began.
The new project was soon under way. With its essential mix of skills and experience, the Institute for Transmedia Design (with partners South NGO, Ukraine, VFS Films, Latvia and Taskovski Film, UK) was able to carry out high-quality transmedia film distribution which far exceeded our plans and expectations.
Ukrainian Sheriffs is the feature-length debut from director and co-editor Roman Bondarchuk. The story uncovers the Ukraine that is usually concealed behind the veil of media imagery, and reflects all facets of life in Ukraine today in a thoughtful but at the same time tremendously entertaining way.
In Ukrainian Sheriffs we follow Viktor and Volodya, two men who have been appointed as local sheriffs by the mayor in the village of Stara Zburyevka. As they tackle drunken neighbours and crimes such duck theft, news of the war with Russia slowly starts to creep in on them through televisions and army conscription. Ukrainian Sheriffs gives us a look beyond the war and into everyday life in a Ukrainian village, with a fine eye for the shady side of life.
THE TRANSMEDIA SIDE OF THE FILM
Starting with an overall transmedia strategy and the IDFA Special Jury Prize 2015 for The Best Feature-Length Documentary, The Best of IDFA On Tour, at the International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam, our project went beyond the old tactics of story distribution, exploring new ways and forms of content delivery, combining a knowledge of documentary filmmaking, theatrical event screenings and transmedia practice.
The project fostered an international dialogue as a step towards improving the conditions of communities in Ukraine and elsewhere, promoting transnational interactions using different media as the main tools of film dissemination. By building a passionate audience around social, political and cultural issues, we were able to collaborate quickly and effectively on solutions to today’s toughest problems in Ukraine, and give back to the causes that should matter to all of us.
As filmmaking today has become an open form (one which works best if the target audience is involved in active co-creation and in sustaining and expanding), our distribution activities throughout the project covered open-air screenings and dialogue events (Travel Cinema), the archiving of the stories generated (Web Platform), and audience development and engagement (Social Media Communication).
It is difficult to distribute films in environments to which the story does not belong. To surmount this obstacle, we used Travel Cinema and brought the film to the people, not vice-versa. The film was shown at various cultural events, which were used as a tool to reach our target audience. Travel Cinema was carried out in cooperation with the International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival DOCUDAYS UA, starting in March 2016, with the film premier in Ukraine.
Ukrainian Sheriffs proved to be a great success. Overall, the film and the ‘“sheriffs” became very popular, and the project a well-known example of good community practice.
At special screening events we were able to engage with the audience on the spot. We had great success with round-table events, fostering international dialogue as a step towards improving the social, economic and political conditions of communities in Ukraine, as well as communities in countries with similar conditions. Consequently, visitors were still talking about the film weeks after the screenings.
WEB PLATFORM – WEB DOC
The Web Doc Platform ukrainiansheriffs.com has become an independent medium tasked with showing a realistic economic, political and social picture of Stara Zburyevka through real stories and characters.
The web doc was selected for Zgraf 12, the international exhibition of graphic design and visual communications, which has been held in Zagreb since 1975, where the Ukrainian Sheriffs Web Doc was presented to an international audience. The exhibition was organised by the Croatian Association of Artists of Applied Arts (ULUPUH). The selection shows the excellence of Web Doc’s design approach and development.
SOCIAL MEDIA COMMUNICATION
Social media communication served as a real-time independent medium, a real picture of what is going on in Ukrainian villages and communities, containing NO biased reports and views of reporters to local and international audiences.
To achieve our goals, different media and tactics were used to increase access and participation in the story with particular groups and contexts. During the communication strategy implementation process, we covered social media communication on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, raising awareness and spreading information before a cinema screening, and fostering further communication and audience engagement after it.
Our project had a wonderful finale. The Ukrainian Oscar Committee chose Roman Bondarchuk’s Ukrainian Sheriffs as an Ukraine’s official entry in the “Best Foreign Language Film” category of the 89th Academy Awards in 2017. We covered the screenings in New York, Hollywood, LA, Beverly Hills, among other places. The screenings were a huge success and the film earned standing ovations when the screenings were finished.
The film has enjoyed abundant exposure on TV as well as at film festivals, where it won the Grand Prix at Docs Against Gravity in Warsaw, and was awarded recognition at the Docudays UA, International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival in Ukraine, the Hot Docs Film Festival in Canada and Sheffield Doc/Fest, Sheffield International Documentary Festival in Sheffield; it even became the official Ukrainian entry for the Academy Awards Foreign Language Film Category, #Oscars2017.
The transmedia side of the project was supported by the IDFA Bertha Fund under the Distribution of International Co-productions grant programme.