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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Passion for Roksolana

28 September, 1999 - 00:00

This epochal work has involved a numerous body of actors, 99% of whom are Ukrainians. Unfortunately, they do not have time for sunbathing or swimming. They live in horrible conditions offered by the Hotel Kinotavr, which looks more like a dilapidated dormitory. Recently, the actors have been living from hand to mouth because of lack of funds for filming. Each day the debt grows by UAH 1,200, which includes the cost for accommodating the 17 persons, that have stayed in the Crimea, and their salaries. They have chained themselves to the film like galley slaves. They hate to give up, but they can no longer work under such conditions.

The film crew has completed one-third of the whole project. They have not yet proceeded to the battle scenes. Thus, one can hardly expect something grand. It seems that to save funds, three horses will again substitute for a squadron and several extras for regiments. However hard you may try to switch on your fantasy, it is difficult to believe that Sultan Suleiman (played by Anatoly Khostikoyev) and his spouse Roksolana (Olha Sumska) possess the fabulous wealth of the Ottoman Empire. So wretched are their attire, decorations, the palace interior, recurring in each new episode.

A natural question arises: why launch such a large-scale project, if it cannot be funded? Will this serial bring fame to Ukrainian film making or will the audience again will be just as disappointed as by the previous 26 episodes?

When talking with the actors, one is amazed by their long-suffering. They would work for pennies, even without pay. The only thing they want is to act. And even though they can be embarrassed by some historic discrepancies in the script, but they ignore them. Indeed, Denys Tyslenko and Borys Nibiyeridze have simply invented a great deal. If the film should appear on screen, we will know about the destiny of Roksolana's children, Selim and Bayazet. And how the younger son will turn against his father and go over to the Cossacks (hello, Taras Bulba ). The smart Roksolana Khurem twists imperial husband Suleiman around her little finger. Also, we will see the difficult path of the origin of Zaporozhzhian Sich, and learn about its founder, Hetman Dmytro Vyshnevetsky (Baida). Numerous adventures are connected with vizier Alan, the bey of the Crimean Khanate, performed by Vitaly Borysiuk. Crafty designs, plots, and murders falling to the main characters' lot are numerous. Italian magnates will contribute to the intrigues. Incidentally, their role is played by “foreigners” — Russian actors Igor Dmitriev and Boris Khmelnitsky. Daria Khmelnitskaya debuts as Princess Cornaro.

Having learned about the peripeteias of the plot, one would naturally like to know the balance of truth and fiction, the more so as foreign historians think that Roksolana was Italian by origin, and not Ukrainian Galician Nastia Lysovska born in the town of Rohatyn, as Ukrainian scholars assert. This hypothesis is not even discarded in our reference books on Ukrainian history. I turned for comments to Pavlo Zahrebelny, writer, doyen of Ukrainian historical fiction, and author of the popular novel Roksolana .

“I have nothing to do with that serial,” the rather offended Pavlo Arkhypovych states. “If you do want to know more about our distant female compatriot, carefully read my novel about her. Historians have studied Roksolana meticulously, but did not found any inaccuracies that would mismatch the events. Bayazet never turned against his father. In this severe age there was the blood law of Fatih, whereby they left only one heir and killed all the late Sultans other sons. Such was the lot of the Sultan's younger son Bayazet. Roksolana tried to save him, but she failed. I was much upset by the primitivism demonstrated in the first part of the serial. I don't think a sequel will radically change the situation. They will again create a soap opera tinted with Ukrainian hues.”

Playing the role of Suleiman, Anatoly Khostikoyev is also puzzled why his film character is under Roksolana's thumb. “The Sultan could not possibly be so spineless. He loved his wife very much, yes, and probably heeded her advice but had everything his own way. In fact, under his rule the Ottoman Empire retained its power. Its possessions spread from what was part of Hungarian Kingdom to the Transcaucasus, Mesopotamia, Arabia, Tripoli, and on to Algeria”. The actor is sure he will be able to make the director change his mind, and his character will be slightly corrected. Of more concern to him is his elder son Heorhy (a second year student at the Karpenko-Kary Theatrical Institute) who makes his debut in the role of Bayazet. In Yalta, Khostikoyev the elder, seeing the unsanitary conditions the film crew had to live in, hired an apartment at his own expense, and to save money cooked for himself. Olha Sumska, who with her husband Vitaly Borysiuk was living in Foros, did similarly. She is an ardent booster of the project and is taking it hard that they do not let them finish what they started. Incidentally, in two months of filming she has received the fantastic honorarium of 60 hryvnias, just enough to get back home. After returning to Kyiv she is trying to break through: calling all the authorities, asking to find the lost money allocated for the filming. They express their sympathy and promise to handle the problem, but time flies relentlessly. Running around in circles, Sumska exclaimed in a fit of pique, “If we are so smart, why are we so poor? We can't shoot even one film a year!”

Director Borys Nibiyeridze is also in a blue funk. He thinks there is an evil spirit hovering over the project. Based on the cost estimate, UAH 5 million was supposed to be allocated, while they have got only UAH 200,000. This is why they began to shoot the film four months later than planned. They built the stage sets in Yalta. And instead of a flotilla they built one ship and three movable structures (necessity really is the mother of invention). This enables them to “create” four types of vessels. Yet, there is no end to the work. For the second week now, the group has been living on hope. But they have to hurry, for the weather will soon be unfavorable. The funds earmarked by the Cabinet are in limbo somewhere: the National Television Company and Ukrtelefilm (which have requested the serial) thus far have not received the money in their bank accounts. “We had been working two months without days off,” says Borys Nibiyeridze bitterly. “But all our superhuman efforts turned out to be in vain. We have already filmed seven and half episodes, but in no way can we finish the Yalta period. I would have given this all up long ago, but so much effort has been spent on this picture. Very decent material is being produced. As for myself, this is the fifth month I haven't been paid. I ask nothing. Just let us finish the work!”

Thus, the passion for Roksolana continues.

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