VIFF 2019 Interview – FAMILY HOUR director Mariia Ponomarova

“FAMILY HOUR is a short film that focuses on the need for acceptance, warmth and unconditional love. The main character Danya – a talented teenager who stays in the summer camp – hopes to be recognised and loved by his estranged father, but gets it from the person that he expects the least.” Director Mariia Ponomarova on FAMILY HOUR which screens at the 2019 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival. 

Congratulations on your film playing and welcome to VIFF! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?

It’s my first time and I’m very happy that my film will be screened at VIFF. Since Vancouver is pretty far from where I live, I can’t attend this time. However, I hope to show my next works in the upcoming editions and come myself to the festival then!

So how did you get into this business? Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and what you have worked on in the past.

I’ve been studying directing in Kyiv National University of Theatre, Cinema and Television in Ukraine, where I got my Bachelor degree and then I graduated from the Master of Film program of Netherlands Film Academy (NFA) in Amsterdam. I’ve done 4 short fiction and documentary films before and always focused on character-driven stories.

How did this project come together for you? Give me a rundown from the preparation, to shooting, to post-production to now!

Family Hour came from my Artistic research during the Master of Film course at the NFA. I did the research in Kyiv together with the main protagonist, Daniil Zubkov, and then wrote the script during the course with the supervision from the award-winning screenwriter Helena van der Meulen. The production happened in Ukraine and I’ve been supported by my brilliant local crew. The post-production was done primarily in The Netherlands, but the colour grading was done in Ukraine; I’m a big fan of colourist Marina Tkachenko, so I came back to Kiev before wrapping up the film into the DCP. The whole cycle took me 2,5 years!

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

I would like to quote here Oleksandr Dovzhenko: “Keep on crying, but don’t stop shooting”. Of course, it takes a lot of sweat and tears, doubts and happy laughs. Yet I think the main drive for the filmmaking for me is the curiosity about the trigger moments, that seem small but happened to be life changing. The exploration of those moments keeps me running and even lets me wake up early for the shooting days.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

The most challenging was the timing; we had to film before Daniil would grow up as he was key actor for me and without whom I would not make this film. The most rewarding was the moment when I found the girl who played Eva – Danya’s sister. I was struggling with the casting for this role and all of the sudden I saw her in the Kyiv metro, she was the perfect match!

I’m about to get technical, but I would love to know about the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed. 

The DoP of the film is extremely talented Ukrainian Nikita Kuzmenko. He’ve been previously working with Daniil on other projects, so I knew that there would be a good chemistry between the lead actor and the DoP on set. We filmed on Arri Alexa. I had a total trust to his artistic choices, so when Nikita proposed to change the aspect ratio to highlight the post-Soviet style and the focus on the main character and I quickly agreed.

After the film screens at Vancouver, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?

The film is going to keep on traveling in Europe. It will go to Germany at the Braunschweig International Film Festival, the Linz International Short Film Festival in Austria and Macedonia  at the Tetovo International Film Festival ODA.

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive through a movie?

That I’m sorry for them – they are losing the moment of magic, the magic of cinema.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

Be specific and don’t do generic stories/stories that are aimed to impress someone. Just knowing what you are talking about in your stories is not enough, feeling your stories – this is what impresses people and drives the profound attention to you as a storyteller.

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

The Last Family by Jan P. Matuszyński that I saw at Rotterdam Film Festival.

For this and more movies playing at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival, point your browser to www.viff.org

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