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Director Oleksiy Radynski: «Activism can be made into a piece, an object, or a material of art»

Oleksiy Radynski’s documentary «Infinity According to Florian» grew out of his short film «Facade Colour: Blue»: it described the confrontation between the architect of the «flying saucer» on Lybidska Square Florian Yuriev and the developer of Ocean Mall, who wanted to encroach on the find of monumentalism. Oleksiy Radynski’s full-length film rediscovers the legacy of the forgotten architect, his worldview, and his preferences.

«Infinity According to Florian» had its world premiere at one of the most influential film festivals in the world, The International Film Festival Rotterdam, and in Ukraine it was first shown at the end of that year at Docudays UA.

The DTF Magazine team talked to the director about why commerce cannot coexist with institutions, how to avoid burnout at protests, and what Kyiv lacks in terms of architecture.

Infinity according to Oleksiy Radynski

— When did you realize that urbanism, monumentalism, and cinema were your thing?

— I think I’ll start with movies. That’s what I’ve been doing the longest. I’ve been doing it a lot longer than I’ve been doing urban studies. At first, I researched the history of cinema, then I started making films, although I have no directing education. In the case of urbanism, it also began with my research work when there was an active urban movement in Kyiv in the second half of the noughties. If we are talking about Kontraktova Square, where the «Module of Temporality» is located, this is a key place for me, because I was a student at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. It’s also where I got interested in cinematography.

The first involvement with urbanism was the story of the reconstruction of Kontraktova Square, when there was an attempt to move the monument to Skovoroda to another place and restore the building of the Kyiv City Council. Back when we were students of the academy, we held different actions, and it was amazingly easy to stop this reconstruction. Perhaps that’s because the idea of reconstruction was extremely absurd.

A still from «Infinity According to Florian»

— Do you lack a directing education? Or are you okay without it?

— I don’t have a directing education, because in my student days in Kyiv there really weren’t any places where you could get one. Maybe there are such places now. You need an education to shoot, but it doesn’t have to be a directing education.

My education is watching movies. There are many ways to learn how to make movies, but the way I can recommend is just to watch movies. As a filmmaker, I was formed by watching films at the KMA film club on a daily basis.

Besides, at our department one could learn a lot of interesting things about cinema, primarily thanks to such teachers as Mykhailo Sobutsky and Olga Bryukhovetska. I am not surprised that so many graduates of the Department of Cultural Studies are now involved in directing.

— Tell us, what was the impetus for filming «Infinity According to Florian»?

— At the time the short film was released, it was clear that the scale of Florian’s personality and the process we were showing could not be put into such a format. We were already working on a feature film when the first film was completed. Then we decided that we would have two films, because the short is aimed at the publicity around the situation with the «saucer». It was conceived as part of the Save Kyiv Modernism campaign. There didn’t seem to be any reason to wait many years to make a feature film. And I didn’t want to wait. After completing the feature film, I decided not to show the short film again. The issue is not that most of it became part of the feature film. It’s just that the feature film replaces it.

Also, the process we show in the film is very long. The short film should have been more topical, even though it could have stretched on for years or decades. It ended up with a kind of dramaturgical ending — at least for me.

The full-length film was supposed to be a retrospective of the process during which the Ocean Mall construction stopped. I wanted to reproduce the whole process, including what happened to the «flying saucer». That’s not what happened. The story is over, but the Ocean Mall stands unfinished. Maybe someday it will be finished, but I’m not sure.

— The full-length film was first called «Florian’s Witnesses». Why did they change the title?

— «Florian’s Witnesses» is the self-name of the group that worked on the film. Me, Oleksiy Bykov and the rest of the crew created a kind of sect with elements of irony. It also became the working title of the film, because it had to be called something. But at first, it was clear that the title was a working title, because the film is not about us. That’s why the title was changed.

A still from «Infinity According to Florian»

— Your film is both a portrait film and a film that reveals the artist’s worldview. Why are there so few films that convey the vision of the protagonist?

— Yes, there are few such films, but there are also not many people whose worldview should be relayed. Films about other important figures were made at the same time. For example, Alina Matochkina created a film about Ada Rybachuk. Artists Ada Rybachuk and Volodymyr Melnychenko were friends of Florian Yuriev. They are phenomenal artists who were treated unfairly by our society. And now my generation’s interest in avant-garde artists is so great that several films have already been released.

In parallel with our film, Oleksiy Bykov, a member of our team, was working on the film «To Build a City» by Roman Bondarchuk and Vadym Ilkov. They still haven’t finished it for various reasons, but I’m really looking forward to it. Roughly speaking, the secondary character in our film, Oleksiy Bykov, is their main character. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a movie about his passion and interest in the generation of modernists. I don’t know if all of these films relay someone’s worldview, but I have noticed that there is such a wave.

«Saucer» vs commerce

— You have already filmed the «flying saucer» in three documentaries: «Facade Colour: Blue», «Circulation» and «Infinity According to Florian». What do you associate it with when you see it on Lybidska Square?

— When I first saw it, I associated it with space and the flight of human fantasy, and now I inevitably associate it with the collision of space flight of fantasy and mundane stupidity. All three films were related projects. We did them at the same time, and in documentary filmmaking you don’t know in advance what kind of film you’re making. You start one thing, and then you get something else. For example, the film «Circulation» consists largely of footage not included in the film about the saucer. We used the city train as dolly and as a tool for capturing the changes that were happening in the city, in motion.

A still from «Infinity According to Florian»

«Saucer» is located between the stations of the circular electric train «Kyiv-Demiivskyi» and «Protasiv Yar». While in the train, you could see one of the most interesting views of this building in motion. It is very important for this kind of architecture, considering that the object is immovable. But it looks like a spaceship with dynamic features. How to make it fly? You can do that with special effects, or you can move the camera. At the same time, we filmed the transformation of the construction process. We filmed «Circulation» only from the window of a railroad car for three years. And one of the locations is the «saucer» in front of which Ocean Mall grows up.

— You’ve devoted several years to fighting for the vision of Florian Yuriev’s «saucer». What helps you hold on morally when you have to watch business «choke off» art?

— I think that activism can be made into a piece, an object, or a material of art. Usually there’s a problem with these kinds of initiatives: you don’t see the result and people feel an emotional burnout. People speak out against injustice or venality, and we have a civil society built in such a way that people do it in their spare time from their main job. They are forced to do things that are completely unrelated to their professional skills.

Residents, in front of whose windows high-rise buildings are built, are forced to learn the legal nuances. At the same time, they are confronted by professionals who are paid for their work. This is an abnormal situation that will result in a loss for civil society. I have learned that contributing to the common cause should be what you do best. In my case, it is cinema. However, the influence of cinema on reality is very limited.

A still from «Infinity According to Florian»

— In «Infinity According to Florian», the topic of Florian Illich’s death is repeatedly raised. Did you feel uncomfortable with the coverage of this topic in the film?

— It was sad, but he was always talking about his illness, sharing his thoughts about life and death. He described death from a philosophical point of view. I didn’t see it as a problem, but I thought it was a problem that the man was in a rather difficult life situation at the end of his life. We were not the only people around him. But it seemed to me that we were restoring justice because we managed to record his ideas and work. Morally, it would have been more problematic for me not to have done so.

What will happen next on Lybidska?

— What are your predictions for the future of the «flying saucer»?

— I hope that in the post-war time society and the state will change their attitude towards such institutions as the Ukrainian Institute of Scientific and Technical Expertise and Information. But even during the war they are trying to commercialize them. And so far there is no indication of change. We see from the example of the Dovzhenko Centre that this takes no less predatory forms when we have so-called «optimization» and war. «Let’s sell it, and the money will go to the AFU». Although it is clear that they will not go to the AFU, but into someone else’s pockets. This is what the Ukrainian State Film Agency is now trying to do with the territories of film institutions. But, unfortunately, the most frustrating question is what will happen to Ocean Mall? The future fate of the former business empire of Vagif Aliyev (a russian businessman and owner of Ocean Mall. — Note from DTF Magazine) will be a test for everyone. And the question is whether his empire is really a former empire.

On the one hand, it is obvious that the presence of this russian oligarch’s business in Kyiv is a great shame, but on the other hand, we overestimate the scale of the awakening, particularly of people like Vitalii Klychko and his entourage, who are fully or partially dependent on people like Vagif Aliyev. Will Vagif Aliyev come to Kyiv again after the war? What will happen to his objects? Perhaps, his empire will be torn apart and given to competitors. They will finish building Ocean Mall, which is not the best solution. This unfinished construction must be dismantled. It would be fair and optimal in terms of urban planning.

A still from «Infinity According to Florian»

I’m not an urbanist or architect, but as a resident of Kyiv I can say that a mall of this size should never have been built at this point of the city. Not because it harms the square or the «saucer», but because it is a huge harm to the whole center of the city. There is nothing fantastic about dismantling this construction. This is an area adjacent to the Lybid river, which is much talked about. It could be a key point in the revitalization of the river and bank.

— Do you think that the fact that Ocean Plaza’s profits are tied to the purchase of cartridge factories in russia will have any effect on the construction of Ocean Mall?

— Ocean Mall and Ocean Plaza are often confused with each other, but apparently justifiably so. They are competitive projects, and the construction of Ocean Mall began with the overarching goal of absorbing Ocean Plaza. They have different owners, although they resell something to each other all the time. It’s ouroboros. Finally, it was interesting to find out that this is so closely connected to russian capital. The next question: does Vagif Aliyev’s business finance the war? And if so, does he do it directly or maybe indirectly?

Florian Yuriev in «Infinity According to Florian»

Film festivals and reactions

— The film premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. What was your most memorable review from there?

— There was a review in a Canadian film publication in Montreal. It said that the film raises an important issue that we all understand, because in our city, developers have also become arrogant and do what they want. Of course, this is a global problem. However, there are different levels of neglect. Very often modern architecture is terrible, although the scale is absolutely not comparable. People who are not indifferent thought that this is also a relevant topic for them.

— What are the most bizarre interpretations of the film you’ve ever heard?

— Maybe it was at the stage of making a short film, but I had to face the following feedback: «Well, what’s wrong with the fact that they wanted to turn this building into a mall? I mean, they wanted to improve it. This building is old and neglected. There’s no renovation. And in general, what are you fighting for? They would have made a mall and it would have been cool».

You can either laugh or cry about it. But there are no positive examples of the so-called «public-private partnership» in our country. This is not a partnership, but a legalized raiding or robbery of the public domain. Other countries have such examples, because there business doesn’t have as much control over everything around it. Perhaps not everyone realizes that our situation is absurd and grotesque. For example, when the owner of a shopping mall comes in and says: «And here we will make a science museum». Maybe someone is really appealing for that, but we know they won’t do it, and it’s bullshit. At best, it will be a playroom for children whose parents go to the mall to shop.

A still from «Infinity According to Florian»

— You were also the keeper of Florian Yuriev’s experimental film «Film Dedicated to Water and Trees». And it was also shown in Rotterdam, but this year. Tell us about the reactions of the audience who saw this film at the film festival.

— It’s an abstract film, and it’s not really a film, but working materials. The situation is quite special because the International Film Festival Rotterdam is the ideal platform for such a film. It’s more experimentation-oriented than other A-list film festivals. Its team is not afraid to show completely bizarre films of different formats, including artifacts from film history. No one will be surprised by an abstract 15-minute film with no sound, which also consists of working materials.

It is not difficult to determine the audience of the film. I don’t think it was anything extravagant or surprising. The fact that they asked to show Florian Illich’s film demonstrates that there is public interest in his personality and his work. We use excerpts of this film in «Infinity» and after seeing it, audiences and festival selectors asked where to watch the full film. We came to the conclusion that there is material, and it can be singled out.

Florian Yuriev in «Infinity According to Florian»

— Are you going to continue working with Florian Yuriev’s legacy? Or is this topic closed for you after the release of the films?

— The situation with the «saucer» is frozen, but it would be nice to monitor the construction and interact when it is unfrozen. We managed to create a resonance around the «saucer» and attract public interest, which will not disappear. There was an understanding that we could not allow it to be destroyed.

A large part of Florian’s archive has been digitized. Unfortunately, the question of his physical archive remains unresolved. At Florian Yuriev’s request, we wanted to create a fund named after him when he was still alive. He, unfortunately, passed away when the question arose as to who would own his works. His works have no legal status, because when he was still alive he deliberately avoided this question, and he did not leave a written will, although he was asked to do so. He left an oral will that all his works belong to the people of Ukraine. Lawyers are helping us with this question, but it remains in limbo.

Kyiv without cinemas and favorite colors

— What is missing in the architectural image of Kyiv, and what, on the contrary, is too much?

— There aren’t enough cinemas in Kyiv. We have «Zhovten», «Lira», KINO42, «Kadr», House of Cinema, but that’s really nothing for a city of this size. I’m not talking about Multiplex cinemas, because that’s different. The cinemas that closed after Klychko became mayor are still empty. They only need to be returned to the city.

It is equally absurd that there is no state museum of contemporary art in Kyiv. This may seem like a utopian demand, but in fact these are basic things.

There are people who have been trying to create it for a long time. However, the Ukrainian government decided that it would be better to have the Ivan Marchuk Museum. There is not enough of the city as such. The concept of the city is a space for coexistence of people and other agents of influence. Now it is a city for the functioning of capital. It is governed by an inhuman logic. I hope they don’t build mega malls. One of the unrealized projects of Vagif Aliyev is a network of 10 mega malls in Kyiv districts. There were plans to build one of them on the spot of «Petrivka» market. Aliyev wanted to take over Kyiv, but it probably won’t happen.

A still from «Infinity According to Florian»

— The Ocean Mall developer’s favorite color is blue. What was Florian Yuriev’s favorite color and what is yours?

— It is unlikely that Florian Illich had a favorite color. He was a synesthete and not only saw colors, but could hear them. I don’t have such a synesthetic perception of the world, but thanks to him, I perceive color differently. I can’t name my favorite color, I like rainbow colors.

— Does blue color have a negative connotation for you now?

— No. We can’t let these people take such valuable things from us.

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Development — Mixis