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Slovak Oscar Entry and Venice Prize Winner ‘Photophobia’ Acquired for World Sales by Filmotor (EXCLUSIVE)

Slovak directors Ivan Ostrochovsky and Pavol Pekarčík’s Ukraine war drama “Photophobia,” which won the Europa Cinemas Label Award after its Venice Days premiere and is Slovakia’s entry in the best international feature film Oscar race, has been acquired by Prague-based sales agent Filmotor.

Set on a cold February morning in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “Photophobia” follows 12-year-old Niki and his family as they arrive at the Kharkiv metro station to take shelter from the terrifying war raging outside. For Niki’s family, daylight is synonymous with mortal danger, and the boy is not allowed to leave the station premises, living under the constant glow of their neon lights.

While aimlessly wandering around the abandoned cars and full platforms, Niki meets 11-year-old Vika, and a new world opens up to him. As their bond strengthens, the children find the courage once again to feel the sun on their faces.

In a directors’ note provided to Variety, Ostrochovsky and Pavol Pekarčík said: “When we arrived in Ukraine with humanitarian aid in the spring of 2022, and settled into a life alongside the metro refugees, we realized that the eyes of the world would be on the front line. That was why we decided to find something most closely approaching ‘ordinary life’ and preserve it to the best of our abilities: to find a moment of genuine humanity at a time of devastating horror.”

They continued: “We decided to juxtapose the timeless, aimless life lived by Niki and his family with the chilling scenes playing out on ground level, using the format of Super 8mm film footage. We’ve filmed observations of a war-ravaged country that might seem as the distant ideas of a traumatized child — a fever dream from times long past — if only the audience did not know that this was the reality of Ukraine nowadays.”

“Photophobia” is the directors’ first collaboration in a decade, since their debut documentary “Velvet Terrorists,” co-directed with Peter Kerekes, which won the Tagesspiegel Readers’ Award in the Berlin Film Festival’s Forum strand. After premiering in the Venice Days section of the Venice Film Festival, it screened at the Warsaw International Film Festival, where it won the prize for best documentary, as well as DOK Leipzig. Its Czech premiere is slated for the Ji.hlava Intl. Documentary Film Festival later this month, with close to a dozen other festival selections confirmed, along with theatrical releases in Slovakia and Czech Republic.

The film is a Punkchart Films and Cinémotif Films production, co-produced with Radio and Television of Slovakia, Arthouse Traffic, Czech Television and Partizanfilm, with the support of the Slovak Audivisual Fund, Czech Film Fund and the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic.

“Photophobia” follows a 12-year-old and his family taking shelter from the Ukraine war in a metro station.Courtesy of Punkchart Films

Filmotor CEO Michaela Čajková said she was “very pleased to welcome this distinctive Slovak film” to her company’s slate, adding: “The film offers us a unique perspective on the war in Ukraine. It depicts events from the Kharkiv metro in an unrepeatable way, namely through a story of love, friendship in the most difficult human conditions during the war. ‘Photophobia’ is absolutely unique in that it blurs the lines between documentary and feature film. I firmly believe that thanks to the Venice Prize, we will be able to ensure the most fruitful distribution for the film at festivals and cinemas around the world.”

“Ivan’s and Pavol’s approach to ‘Photophobia’s’ subject matter always was to portray a story that could resonate with anybody,” added producer Katarina Tomkova of Bratislava-based Punkchart Films. “Their focus was to find light in small routines, everyday life and family intimacy — something we all can relate to, amidst a horrific and unimaginable inhumane situation: a war.

“That is why we really wanted to get the film to as many screens — be it festivals or cinema releases — as possible,” she continued. “We’re very happy to partner up with Filmotor, a company that has experience with festival titles and hybrids in particular, and will be able to bring our film to European and international audiences.”

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