Yulia Serdyukova • Producer, yutopia films
“The idea that documentary films can change the world is very dangerous”
- Interview with Yulia Serdyukova, producer for Ukrainian company yutopia films and selected for the 2020 Emerging Producers programme
Why do you produce documentaries? Do you understand documentary film as an instrument of social and political change?
Yulia Serdyukova: I continue asking this question myself all the time: why do I produce documentaries? (Despite the fact that the mission is almost impossible, considering the contemporary distribution challenges, high competition for finances and few opportunities for producers from Ukraine.) I answered it differently at different times, and so it also defined the films I produced. What drives me today is the desire to create space for different kinds of stories – the ones that stay out of the radar of men in power and undermine dominant narratives: stories about surviving (or failing to do so) of those who are still considered to be inferior human beings in our so-called democratic world, stories about creating alternative kinships and finding other ways of living in the ultimately hostile environment in most of the modern societies.
The idea that documentary films can change the world or save lives is very dangerous. Films certainly can do this – with a lot of very specific efforts and under certain circumstances. But this idea mostly serves as justification for white men in developing their careers and inflating their egos by exploiting the suffering of those who are more vulnerable. I know enough documentaries made with the idea of change in mind which have left its protagonists unhappy and changed nothing, only bringing numerous awards to their director. I am in the process of learning how to avoid this trap.
What qualities should a documentary producer have these days?
Considering what I’ve said above, the most important quality from my point of view would be high ethical standards. Such standards are needed to tell if you are not just making more damage with your ‘human rights’ agenda. Empathy could be helpful for developing those standards and constantly negotiating them with colleagues. One might also need curiosity and ‘no bullshit’ attitude towards themselves in order to make this journey interesting and safe in terms of moralization. And last but not least – ability to enjoy the process rather than expecting any results, because, honestly, one cannot produce one film a year with such an attitude.
What do you think is the future of distribution of documentary films?
Honestly, I have no idea. I like not-very-global VOD platforms with hand-picked line-ups and ‘small’ well-targeted community screenings. One also should not underestimate the power of link-sharing between friends and pals. However, I believe cinemas and VR-screenings will stay on-board for those who seek more sensual experiences with films, despite the genre.
What projects do you have under way (including in the area of fiction film and other projects)?
I am currently working on three very different films. First, hybrid trilogy Underwater (director Oksana Kazmina) – three stories of unconventional female-identified Ukrainian artists who plunge in the depths of their personal and collective unconscious to fight violent monsters lurking there, the ones that come both from their past and present surroundings. Second, Displaced Garden – an animated documentary about displacement of people and plants (director Kateryna Voznytsia, co-director and writer Darya Tsymbalyuk). And finally, fiction horror / social drama Today I Am Sad As Nezahualcoyotl (written and directed by Valentina Petrova) – a story about poverty, mental disorders and horrors of post-Soviet medicine. All of these projects are still open for both creative and financial contribution.
Emerging Producers is a promotional and educational project, which brings together talented European documentary film producers. The programme is organised and curated by the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival.
Deadline for applications to the Emerging Producers 2021 edition is 15 March, 2020.
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