Alfred Fedetsky, a photographer, had happened to be the author of the first Ukrainian film comprising several news topics shot in September 1896 in Kharkiv. Already the same year in December, almost concurrently with the first public film show in Paris, the moviemaker arranged the first Ukrainian performance at the Kharkiv Opera Theater.
Pioneers of the Ukrainian moviemaking at the start of the nineteenth century preferred screening film versions of the popular Ukrainian plays Natalka Poltavka (with Maria Zankovetska participating), Moskal the Wonder Maker, and Naimytchka (The Hireling). At the same time, the attempt had been made to shoot a film on the subject of Ukrainian history, however again on the theatrical basis, that is, Bohdah Khmelnytsky by Mykhailo Starytsky. Creative activity of quite a few popular actors is connected with pre-revolutionary motion pictures in Ukraine. The ‘queen’ of the screen of that time was Vira Kholodna born in Poltava, who acted in films a great deal in Odesa.
From 1919, total governmetization began of the motion picture industry in Ukraine. In 1922 the all-Ukrainian Photo and Cinema Administration, a flexible enough structure, was founded that managed to reconstruct production in Odesa and Yalta, and, in 1928, to put into operation a movie studio in Kyiv, one of the largest in the world at that time, that later became the Olexandr Dovzhenko Kyiv Movie Studio. At the same time, producers of the fiction films attempted to combine the subject of the October revolution with melodrama and adventure that were traditional genres during the preceding period (e.g., The Ukrasia by P. Chardynin and The Diplomatic Courier’s Bag by O.Dovzhenko). During the period screen version of the classical fiction such as Taras Triasylo, Mykola Dzheria and Boryslav Laughs also appeared in Ukraine
Late in the 20s, a new modernistic trend in the Ukrainian movies made itself known that resulted thanks to the cooperation of the producer Les Kurbas and authors Mykhailo (Mike) Johansen and Yuriy Yanovsky. The distinctive moviemaker and famous sculptor I.Kavaleridze (Prometheus and Zaporihia Sich Cossack beyond the Danube) was also working the unbeaten paths in cinematography.
The Dovzhenko’s films Zvenihora, 1928, Arsenal, 1929, and Zemlya, 1930, played a special role in the making of the Ukrainian cinematography. His artistic efforts raised this country’s film industry to the world level. In 1958, at the World Fair in Brussels (Belgium) the poll conducted among the outstanding 117 movie critics and cinematologist from 26 countries of the world named the latter film among the twelve best films of ‘all the times and nations’.
In 1930, the first talking picture, the documentary by D.Vertov The Symphony of the Donbas, was released, while the next year movie goers were already heard voices of actors in the feature film The Front by O.Solovyov.
Late in the 30s, the total terror reigns while existing side by side with the relapse deemed opportune to the national and historic past. The films Schors, 1939, by Olexandr Dovzhenko and Bohdan Khmelnytsky by Ihor Savchenko are striking conflation of the situational government order enforced and the explicit director and actor skills.
During the WWII, the Ukrainian movie industry, being partially relocated to the East, was mostly placed to perform the appropriate ideological wartime tasks. However, during the period true masterpieces were shot. One of them is the film Raiduha (Rainbow) shot by Marko Donskoy to the script by Vanda Vasylevska that depicted the most expressively the tragedy of the Ukrainian village occupied by the Germans. The film had won a series of international awards including Oscar in the best foreign-language film category (1944).
Although the Ukrainian films of the 1945 to 1953 period were constrained by strict rules of ‘socialist realism’, their great value lies in the high standard of acting skill: Mykhailo Romanov, Amvrosiy Buchma, Dmyto Miliutenko as well as young then Serhiy Bondarchuk appear on the screen on top of the highly masterly camera work (for instance, Podvyh Rozvidnyka (The Feat of Intelligence Officer, 1947) directed by Boris Barnet and Danylo Demutsky as cameraman; Taras Shevchenko, 1951, produced by Ihor Savchenko and shot by D.Demutsky, and others.
The political thaw late in the 50s and early 60s sky-rocketed the Ukrainian film production. Pictures had appear that are still highly popular with the moviegoers: Spring on the Zarechna Street, 1956, directed by Marlen Khutsiyev and F.Myroner, and Za Dvoma Zaitsiamy (Two Birds with a Stone), 1961, produced by Victor Ivanov.
The names of the world value – the producers Serhiy Paradzhanov, Yuriy Illienko, Leonid Osyka, and Mykola Maschenko, and actors Ivan Mykolaichuk, Yuri Shumsky, Hnat Yura, Konstantyn Stepankov, Mykola Hrynko, Bohdan Stupka represented the Ukrainian film industry of the 60s.
Such films as Tini Zabutykh Predkiv (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors), 1964, by Serhiy Paradjanov, Krynytsia Dlia Sprahlykh (Well For the Thirsty), 1965, by Yuriy Illienko, Kamianyi Khrest (The Cross of Stone), 1968, by L. Osyka initiated the so called ‘Ukrainian poetical films’. However, the political reaction of the so-called ‘social stagnation period’ virtually liquidated this Ukrainian creative trend: Serhiy Paradjanov was excluded from cinematography and removed from public life; a ban imposed on the film Dovhi Provody (The Prolonged Seeing-Off,), 1971, the ‘author’s’ masterpiece by Kira Muratova; Yu.Illienko’s films Vechir Na Ivana Kupala (Midsummer Night, 1968, Bilyi Ptakh z Chornoyu Oznakoyu (White Bird with Black Mark), 1971, met its dramatic fate. A bit later, the esthetics of the Ukrainian poetic movie trend stimulated actor Ivan Mykolaichuk’s debut as director of film Babylon-XX, 1979; significant elements of it come forth in such films as Mykola Maschenko’s Commissars, 1971, and How the Steel Was Tempered, 1973.
Disregarding reactionary bureaucracy of the Ukrainian film production during the Brezhnev era of 70s and 80s, a series of films appeared created by powerful creative personalities. Leonid Bykov shot the film Only ‘Old Soldiers’ Go into Battle, 1972, while in 1982 Roman Balayan, having done highly professional screening of several Russian literary classics, in his film Flights in One’s Sleep and Awake, 1983, precisely imparted phenomenology of the time.
Nevertheless, those years turned out to be the heyday for the Ukrainian non-fiction films. The Kyiv Studio of Popular Scientific Films managed to shoot a great deal of films, among which came to light the true masterpieces of the genre, e.g., The Language of Animals; Do Animals Think?; The Seven Steps Over the Horizon by F. Soboliev and a number of others.
Highly successful was this period also for the Ukrainian animated cartoon films. Films produced by Volodymyr Dakhno (the serial The Way Cossacks …), Davyd Cherkasky (Captain Vrungel Advanchers, Wings, etc.), Leonid Zarubin (The Bull of Straw), Volodymyr Honcharov (The Milky Way) made famous the Ukrainian animation far beyond the country’s borders.
During perestroika quite a few films were made that had explicit social orientation: The Syndrome of Asthenics, 1989, by Kira Muratova; The Scourge of God, 1988, by O. Fialko; Rozpad (Collapse), 1990, by M. Belikov, etc.; Yuriy Illienko‘s Swan Lake, The Zone, 1989, received much acclaim internationally as anti-totalitarian movie symbol.
During the 90s, the Ukrainian TV media was mastering the genre spread worldwide of shooting TV serials with Roksolana by B. Nebieridze and Ostriv Lubovi (The Island of Love) by O. Biyma being the examples.
During the turn of the millennium a line of Ukrainian actors were engaged in foreign films. Of great commercial success happened to be the Jerzy Hofmann’s With Fire and Sword with Ukrainian actor Bohdan Stupka in the role of Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky. Since then Bohdan Stupka is number one performer of hetman’s role on the Ukrainian screen: he acts in the historical serial The Black Rada, 2000, by Mykola Zaseiev-Rudenko and Yuriy Illienko’s film The Prayer for Hetman Mazepa, 2001.
During the recent years, a new generation of moviemakers arrived. In 2001, the starting art director Taras Tomenko triumphed in the Panorama competition at the Berlin International Film Festival, while in 2003, at the main completion in Berlin the Silver Bear prize was awarded to the film Tram Route #9 by the Ukrainian animator Stepan Koval. Oles Sanin represented Ukraine for Oscar Academy Award in 2003 with his film Mamay.