November 3, 2009

Yuri Illenko’s Prayer for Mazepa Returns

Yuri Illienko’s much criticized, maligned, and even ridiculed film Prayer for Hetman Mazepa (2002) is about to get a new lease on life. After seven years of oblivion the last film of the internationally recognized director has been re-edited, supplied with a new Surround 5.1 soundtrack  and in a matter of weeks will be all but ready for a theatrical release in HD Video format. The news was broken to the Ukrainian Film Club of Columbia University by Yuri Illienko himself.
Prayer was conceived as a Ukrainian answer to Braveheart by Mel Gibson and Polish blockbuster With Fire and Sword (1999) by Jerzy Hoffman. The project enjoyed a massive financial support of the then Ukraine’s prime minister Viktor Yushchenko and had the budget of $2.5 mln., the biggest for a film since independence. The historical drama, featuring some of the best actors Ukraine boasts, was widely expected to herald a much overdue revival of the Ukrainian national cinema. Instead Prayer proved a huge box-office failure and artistic disappointment.
David Stratton of the influential industry publication Variety described it as “a willfully chaotic picture … [whose] merits, such as they are, lie in its very craziness, certainly not in its utterly confusing way of telling a story…” One intriguing aspect of the picture seemed to be an anathema vocalized in person by the Russian minister of culture Mr. Shvydkoy which meant a de facto ban on its screening in the Russian Federation and made it into something of a forbidden fruit.
Yuri Illienko explained the poor reception of his film among critics and the viewers alike by the fact that it was never finished. After a short theatrical release and screenings at several film festivals including the Berlinale (outside the competition) the Prayer vanished from view for seven years and was nowhere to be seen or purchased, not even from all-having DVD pirates. It became something of a cinematographic enigma.
This year the copyright ownership for the Prayer was transferred from the original producer Yuri Didkovsky to the Illienko Films LLC created with the express goal to complete the making of this film and to bring it to Ukrainian and international viewer. According to Mr. Philip Illienko, Yuri Illienko’s son and a co-founder of the company, the new version of the Prayer  is “in fact a completed old film that up until now was not finished in what concerns its sound.” It is about fifteen minutes shorter. “The shortening of the film did not change its creative concept and artistic execution. In addition, the director’s background commentary was added with explanation of the historical context in which the events portrayed in the film unfold,  as well as the history of the making of the film. This addition of author’s voice outside the frame as a protagonist of the story is organically linked to the appearance in the frame of the director himself as well as with the sometimes subjective camera movements which all the time takes part in the construction of the mise en scène as a participant rather than a mere “reporter.” In the opinion the director this new addition will facilitate the viewers’ comprehension. The Illienko Films LLC is currently looking for partners and investors to effect the Prayer’s release in movie theaters and on DVD as well as its screening on television.
The Ukrainian Film Club of Columbia university is currently exploring the possibilities of screening the new version of Yuri Illienko’s  Prayer for Hetman Mazepa in New York City and other US venues.

Ukrainian Film Club of Columbia University© 2015. For more information please contact Yuri Shevchuk