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2019 Focus on Julia Ivanova

We live in an age of unprecedented migration and international travel, yet modern antiimmigration sentiments—with their neo-purist and racist narratives—are appearing in daily headlines and being stoked for political ends. At the same time, international communications companies boast that the internet and technological advances are erasing borders and allowing for a massive exchange of crosscultural knowledge.

Julia Ivanova’s documentaries engage with people who are living through these conflicted times—those forced to negotiate their ethnic, religious and cultural identities as they cross borders both tangible and intangible. Her personal history of immigration has gifted her with compassion and curiosity about how others cope with the desire to belong while grappling with culture shock, a new language or unfamiliar social prejudices.

Ivanova grew up in Moscow, where her father was a programmer for the Moscow International Film Festival, and she studied film at the Russian Film Institute. As a young woman she worked at the Canadian embassy in Moscow, which led to her immigrating to Canada with her family in 1995.

They settled in Vancouver, where she worked as a consultant for Canadians who wanted to adopt orphans from Russia and Ukraine. Inspired by these adoptive parents and children, she picked up a camera and made her first film: From Russia, For Love (2000). Meanwhile, her brother Boris Ivanov founded Interfilm Productions in the late 1990s, and since then he has produced almost all of her films through his company.

We’re delighted to present four of her complex and challenging works this year, kicking off with the world premiere of My Dads, My Moms and Me, which revisits Fatherhood Dreams, a film she made in 2007 about gay men adopting and raising babies. Ivanova incorporates joyful excerpts from the first film with new scenes of the now-preteen kids and their parents, reflecting on years of negotiating homophobic prejudice against queer and alternative families.

Ivanova is usually the writer, director, cinematographer, sound recorder and editor of her films; as such, she is a master at building trust and relationships with her subjects, resulting in extraordinarily revealing interviews that arise from observational live action scenes. This level of control also allows her to film over a number of years, following subjects as they come to consciousness over time; as people’s emotions, ideas and circumstances grow and evolve, a unique kind of bio-rhythm emerges on screen.

For example, 2011’s critically acclaimed and Hot Docs Best Canadian Feature award winner Family Portrait in Black and White films a group of Black and biracial foster children in a village in Ukraine over three years. As they come of age, they must cope with the rise of white nationalism in a country of blue-eyed blonds and a foster mother whose child-rearing is ruled by Soviet-era notions of collective duty rather than the individual needs of each child.

While large-scale social issues, political forces and conflicts form an omnipresent and often threatening presence in her films, Ivanova’s camera remains focused on the human scale, capturing the myriad ways people attempt to negotiate a sense of self, survive and find pleasure in the face of these looming pressures.

The winner of DOXA’s Colin Low Award for Best Canadian Documentary, Limit is the Sky will have its first Toronto screening in the program. It focuses on six young Canadians who moved to Fort McMurray to make their fortunes, but found themselves eking out livings in service jobs such as hairdressing and bartending. While the toxic landscape and macho get-rich-quick culture haunts the film almost like a mythic character, Ivanova keeps her lens close to the ground, crafting micro-portraits of individuals from as far away as Sudan, Lebanon and the Philippines as their own interests clash with global economic forces and a growing awareness of future environmental catastrophe.

Wildly different cultural and economic expectations are at the heart of 2010’s Love Translated, a fast-paced but poignant comedy of errors and mismatched desires following 10 middle-aged men from Canada, the US and Europe on an international dating tour in Ukraine. The men expect to find gorgeous young women, untainted by feminism and eager to escape an impoverished country. Instead, they discover that most are working in the romance business and have no intention of marrying them—proving that when it comes to romance, much can be lost in translation. Julia Ivanova will attend all of her screenings at the Festival, and we invite you to join us to see and discuss her thought-provoking and deeply intimate films.

– Lynne Fernie



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