Ukrainian filmmaker Ksenia Giorno is involved in multiple areas of filmmaking, and most recently worked as an actress in a TV drama filmed in the UAE. She has also worked in directing, and was involved with the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and the SANAD Film Fund.
Michelle: How did you come to the UAE?
Ksenia: I have been in UAE since five years. My first discovery of the country was in 2009 when I was invited to the country as a journalist covering the development of the Emirates for leading French media. I immediately fell in love with the country and its people, and was seduced by all the opportunities that UAE offers to young people.
Michelle: How long have you been in the film industry? Did you go to school for film/media?
Ksenia: I have studied theatre and performing arts in Paris at university and took some acting classes in Los Angeles with Bernard Hiller. After graduating with a Masters in Arts, I worked at a press agency for two years. When I moved to Abu Dhabi I took a 12-week filmmaking course at NYFA but I still believe that life is the best school ever.
Only experience is capable of truly developing skills.
Michelle: Can you talk about some of the areas you cover in film?
Ksenia: Acting was my true calling since the childhood. I remember I was six years old when my parents brought me to acting classes, then Paris University, Cours Florent and then the Acting Studio of Bernard Hiller. I presented my first professional play in Paris in 2003. It is always challenging to start your career without experience so, along with some friends, I co-wrote and co-produced our first play together.
It took us a few months to create a decent play and to find a small professional theatre willing to share the risks and to co-produce. That was my first experience, and I am truly happy that it was a positive one.
We performed more then 40 times, and a year later the play was performed by Lyceum students in the south of France. Knowing writing and producing is a huge advantage for beginning actors. When you cannot find the perfect role, you can create one – it is all about taking risks and inventing your own success.
As for directing, it was a natural move for me once I found myself in UAE. We do not have so many opportunities to act here, and I believe in the “creative process” as whole.
Once you decide to be an artist, every activity related to the artistic creation should make you happy. No matter if you spend time writing or acting, producing or directing.
So once I decided to make my own short films, I found myself in a need to learn some directing. Later on, it became my profession.
Michelle: You are a passionate advocate of Ukrainian film. Tell us about it.
Ksenia: Ukrainian cinema is very rich and has strong historical background and huge names attached to it.
Unfortunately people do not distinguish Soviet Cinema from Ukrainian, so some part of our legacy is lost or attributed to the Soviet cinematic heritage.
I would advise people to start from classic directors such as Oleksandr Dovzhenko, then to have a look at the best of art-house by Kira Muratova.From the recent films check out “The Tribe” by Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi (which won 27 prizes), “The Guide” by Oles Sanin (it was the Ukrainian entry for 87th Oscars), “Haytarma” by Akhtem Seitablayev (a heart-touching story of deportation of Crimean Tatars), “Battle for Sevastopol” by Sergeiy Mokritskiy and “Winter on Fire,” a monumental documentary about the revolution of dignity on Ukraine which was nominated for Oscars.
Michelle: How is the film scene in Al Ain where you live?
Ksenia: A lot of drama series (mostly historical) are shot in Al Ain because of its unique cinematic landscape, its traditional monuments and its old buildings.
TV series are always in big demand in the UAE, especially during the Holy month of Ramadan and the city of Al Ain is well preserved and owns the soul of this country, so it is a great location for filming.
Right now I am working on a TV series as an actress. The film is a modern drama, for Abu Dhabi TV, that is set in Abu Dhabi and Kuwait. It is so rare to get an English speaking part, and I hope local productions have more international content in the future.
Michelle: Who is your favourite director and what works of theirs have made an impact on you?
Ksenia: Federico Fellini and “Le Dolce Vita”. I cannot really explain why but generally speaking his films are full of human magic; something surreal and astonishing. Federico’s work make me dream. The other director who has had a huge impact on me is Krzysztof Kieslowski with his “The Decalogue” saga. It is simply genius.
Michelle: Everyone involved with film has a “dream project,”
what is yours?
Ksenia: My dream project might take more time than I think. Ten months ago I started work on a documentary about women in my country. Because I have lived in Europe, North America and the Middle East, I always wondered about Eastern European women and their presence all around the world. I have shot footage in France, Egypt, UAE, Ukraine and am planning to go to Turkey and the USA.
My film will cover subjects such as human trafficking, mixed marriages, cultural acceptance, the role of Ukrainian women in European history, Ottoman history, and the traditions of matriarchal society.
This film is not just a “dream project,” it is a mission of mine to tell the stories of women of my country, to break the stereotypes and to introduce them as empowered and strong. Not an easy task but I am ready to accept the challenge.