The first shots of Mavka. The Forest Song won the European professional audience over: at Cartoon Movie animation forum, the Ukrainian project stood out the most and spurred a lot of discussion.

14 March 2017
The first shots of Mavka. The Forest Song won the European professional audience over: at Cartoon Movie animation forum, the Ukrainian project stood out the most and spurred a lot of discussion.

On March 9, FILM.UA Group and Animagrad producers pitched Mavka. The Forest Song internationally for the first time, and did so with great success.  The pitching took place at the biggest European animation forum Cartoon Movie, with Ukraine participating in it for the first time. The main task producers put up before themselves – and fulfilled – was to attract the attention of potential European co-production partners, investors, distributors and broadcasters. This was facilitated by a comprehensive approach towards project presentation, which included much more than the pitch itself. In the end, Mavka. The Forest Song became the highlight of the forum and received a huge impetus for development. After the pitching, negotiations on film co-production already started; its release is planned for 2019.

The project presentation was prepared by producers Iryna Kostyuk, Anna Eliseeva and Egor Olesov as well as the whole team of Animagrad studio. The process took several months: a detailed presentation was created, working footage of the cartoon selected, and information distributed among the pitching’s international participants. Even before its start, all visitors of Cartoon Movie in Bordeaux were aware of it: Mavka the protagonist found its place on the March cover of Animation Magazine (official partner of the event), which was widely distributed at the forum. 

At the pitching itself, producers also presented working footage of the teaser accompanied by unforgettable authentic music from DakhaBrakha – after the presentation, the viewers were humming the melody when going out. Besides, a souvenir range based on the cartoon was brought to Bordeaux, including notebooks, temporary tattoos replicating magic ornaments on Mavka’s hands, and a puppet of Swampy, Mavka’s closest friend and helper.  The project’s delegation was also memorable: designer Olga Navrotskaya (costume designer for Mavka. The Forest Song) developed looks thanks to which you couldn’t but notice the Ukrainians!

“When creating our outfits for the pitching, I used ornaments and flowers developed directly for the film. My main task as a costume designer is to showcase our colorful culture and its connection with nature through the looks of the protagonist. Mavka is the soul of the forest, an ancient mythical creature, and this is the main idea,” says Olga Navrotskaya, costume designer.  

All this transformed the pitch into a memorable performance, and Mavka. The Forest Song didn’t just attract attention of important players in the animation industry but also made a necessary good impression. After the pitch, the delegation was surrounded by distributors, broadcasters and potential co-production partners who were expressing their amazement with the showcased material, project concept and emotional presentation.

“We were aware in advance about the importance of this pitching for our studio, as the first appearance of Mavka in an international arena doesn’t simply concern potential partnerships with European companies; it is an event building the project’s reputation at the market for the nearest two years we have ahead of us to work on the film. And ultimately it is about its destiny on the screens worldwide. Ukraine is a new player in the international animation, and we had to do everything to be accepted, remembered and loved,” says Anna Eliseeva, creative producer of the project.

The forum held a traditional survey, and many participants named Mavka pitch as the best among 50 projects. The producers received feedback from big players of the animation market, including The Walt Disney Company (Germany, Switzerland & Austria), Annecy International Animated Film Festival, CANAL+, TF1 International, Super RTL, and many other companies. All of them noted the strength and uniqueness of the protagonist, high quality of visuals and huge international potential of the project. A distributor for Cinemanse (Finland) highly appreciated the complexity of Mavka’s character and an original view on mythology used in the film. As for the executive producer of TeamTO, the third biggest animation company in France, she praised the image quality of video materials and separately mentioned the strong female character in the cartoon and the fact that the project’s producers and director are women. “It is obvious that your project greatly inspires you,” TeamTO representative said.

“We put all our hearts into this performance, just as we put it daily into each sketch of the characters and worlds, into each word of the script, into each future shot… And the audience felt it. All the energy from our ancient myths and legends, our rituals and folklore music, all the power of the feminine put into a unique and ambiguous character of Mavka (who can be tenderly loving and vulnerable as well as strong and furious defender at the same time) – all this is our code, it runs in the blood. So this touches the soul, and tears well up in your eyes – not just our eyes as creators but everyone we manage to explain it to. And our goal is to bring it out to the widest possible audience. Because Mavka is worth it,” says Iryna Kostyuk, project producer.  

Cartoon Movie forum is first of all a business platform with participating representatives of such companies as CANAL+, France Televisions, Super RTL, The Walt Disney Company, Netherlands Film Fund, Screen Flanders, The Finnish Film Foundation, Kino Swiat, ARRI MEDIA, Celluloid Dreams, mk2 Films, Sola Media, TF1 International, Anima Festival, Creative Europe and reporters from Screen International, Die Welt, Animationweek, France24, etc. Here the participants can present their projects personally and find international partners for co-production. After the pitch, project producers held a lot of meetings with the biggest companies which showed Europe’s interest towards the project and noted its wide monetization opportunities. Negotiations are ahead; their main goal is not just to collect offers and make a decision about a co-production partner but also to establish efficient cooperation with the best animation companies in Europe. No doubt, the project received a huge impetus for its development in the aftermath of the pitching.

“We are sincerely happy that at Cartoon Movie Ukraine was able to show its high professional standards, no worse than those of most European counterparts. The essential thing was to present a project, which was different from many others due to its original (Ukrainian) story, huge energy of the protagonist and powerful ethnographic foundation. The project’s philosophy and mission hit home with the international audience as amongst others they raised the issues of environmental protection, spiritual living and other common human values. I am grateful to our team for productive creative work and excellent preparation for the event,” says Egor Olesov, project producer.  

“Co-production with Europe is possible. People are open and ready to talk about cooperation. The stereotypes about us being small and inexperienced don’t hold water. We are persevering towards our goal,” says Lyubov Krokhmalna, head of international co-production development in Media Resources Management, which facilitates the project’s applying to pitchings and accompanies it in the international co-production process. “The project received a huge impetus for its development.”

Info. Mavka. The Forest Song is a full-length animated feature produced by Ukraine-based Animagrad (FILM.UA Group). It is currently at the concept stage of development. The film is inspired by a play of the same name by Lesya Ukrainka, as well as by various Ukrainian legends and cultural traditions. The film’s production crew includes experts from leading ethnography institutes: the Ukrainian Studies Center at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, the Ivan Honchar Museum, and the Ukrainian Fashion Museum. The experts are there to ensure the authenticity of the Ukrainian myths and legends, religious beliefs, rituals, and visual culture translated into the singular animated world of Mavka.

In September 2016, the animated feature Mavka: The Forest Song won the ninth contest held by the Ukrainian State Film Agency and was awarded state financing in the amount of 30% of the film’s total budget. Mavka: The Forest Song is scheduled for release in Ukraine in late 2018–early 2019.