In 2018, Weightlifter by Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk won the Short Grand Prix of Warsaw Film Festival and several other prestigious awards. This success contributed to the director’s current active work on his debut feature film Pamfir. The project was selected for Cinéfondation Résidence of Festival de Cannes.
Pamfir tells the story of a man from Western Ukraine. He wants to be a decent family man, but challenged by the circumstances he is forced to give up honest breadwinning to help his family. In an exclusive interview, Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk talks about his new film.
Pamfir – what is the meaning of the word?
This is a nickname of a leading character. He got it as a result of certain life changes. Having watched the film, the audience will know why the character was nicknamed this way, and now I can tell that the word holds the essence of the protagonist’s principles.
The plot of Pamfir is set in the midst of Malanka – one of the most vivid Ukrainian carnivals. How this celebration is integrated into the main storyline of the film?
The story unfolds during the active preparation to the holiday. The celebration itself is a culmination of the film, and among the most spectacular episodes are those of the carnival. The main characters prepare carefully for this holiday. The event creates a certain identity. Malanka emphasizes the fact that in the region where the story takes place, several different worlds collided.
What are the shooting locations?
The border areas in Chernivtsi Oblast and Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast. These are the territories where there are still a lot of villages with authentic local dialect. There, you can find eye-catching buildings, streets and yards, as well as picturesque landscapes which perfectly match the story. The way of thinking of locals is also very important. This is rather reserved and secluded community, and I use this atmosphere in the film.
How many times did you rewrite the script of Pamfir?
Not too many times – just thrice. I wrote the first draft back in 2016 in TorinoFilmLab script laboratory. Back then, in various international foundations this project was estimated as a very ambitious one, and I didn’t have a short film to prove my capacity to make such a major film. That’s why I took a break to shoot the Weightlifter. It took me over two years to make this film.
I wrote the second draft of Pamfir after Ukraine got the visa-free regime with European countries. That was quite a challenge as in the first draft Pamfir’s motivation was to get the visas for his family, and now visas were not necessary. On the other hand, I didn’t want to shift the story into the past, I wanted to set it here and now, so I had to find a new motivation for the main character.
With the second draft, I applied for several pitches and was invited to join the Cinéfondation Résidence of Festival de Cannes. Also, the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation supported the project on development stage. With this financial support, we staged many episodes and organized the read-through of the script. After that, it was clear which episodes need revision. That’s how the third draft appeared.
Which countries participate in coproduction of Pamfir?
So far, a Polish company Madants confirmed its participation. The producer is Klaudia Śmieja. Recently, she worked as a producer for Agnieszka Holland and Claire Denis. During the Festival de Cannes, the coproduction contract was signed with the producer Oleksandra Kostina from Bosonfilm. After Cinéfondation Résidence, the film got an opportunity to engage a French producer, and one more country will possibly join the project. The negotiations are currently held.
On the cover photo of Pamfir project, there is a frontier guard. Judging by your previous films, such details usually have underlying connotations and deeper meanings. Perhaps, the main character not only works on the frontier between two countries but is also on the edge of breaking points and moral conflicts?
Each detail in each of my films has additional meanings and messages. Pamfir and his whole family are between the two worlds, but the main character is not a frontier guard.
I made a couple of films in frontier territories and communicated a lot with the locals. I noticed that these people have a special non-linear logic. Perhaps, this unique way of thinking developed because they constantly had to invent ingenious plans to survive.
Your previous film Weightlifter resembled an ancient myth where all the events are analyzed from the distance, in a cold-blooded way. Several years ago, you also made a spectacular documentary Krasna Malanka where the audience was engaged into the carnival unfolding on screen. How Pamfir will interact with the audience?
In the Weightlifter, the task was to create a monumental main character. To make him cold, detached and tough… As for Krasna Malanka, it is more difficult for me to talk about this film because I was working on it for four years. All the while, I was changing and my approach to this carnival was changing too.
Pamfir will not resemble any of my previous films. In each of my films I develop visual and plot decisions to highlight the peculiarities of the main character. In this film, the audience will follow the main character. I can tell for sure that this film will show the fondness of family relations, but the main character will reveal a certain weakness.