Ukrainian Smash ‘Mavka’ Live-Action Film in the Works: ‘Animated Feature Was Just the Start’ (EXCLUSIVE)

The “Mavka” franchise is just getting started.

Ukraine’s FILM.UA Group is now developing a live-action film based on the character already spotlighted in “Mavka. The Forest Song,” Variety has found out. Shown in 148 countries, it has grossed over $21 million globally.

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According to its team, the live-action version will delve even deeper into Ukrainian folklore, offering a more “intricate” portrayal of the mythological character.

“‘Mavka’ was always planned as a multiplatform, cross-media IP. Animated feature was just the start. We want to keep the old fans happy and to attract new ones,” said producer Anna Eliseeva, admitting the new film will be a different (forest) beast.

“The plot and even the character will differ from the animation. ‘Forest Song’ was based on our mythology and the work of Ukrainian poetess Lesya Ukrainka, but we had to reinvent the character for the family audience. Now, we will be able to bring it all back to how it was in the legends: more mysterious and thrilling.”

While it’s “just one big challenge” to film in war-torn Ukraine at the moment, local filmmakers have learnt how to adapt, observed Iryna Kostyuk, who will produce alongside Eliseeva.

“First the pandemic and now the war – I would say that our nation’s resilience is at its top.”

“Our biggest and most significant mission with the animated film had to do with exporting Ukrainian culture. We wanted to make worldwide audiences aware of our great nation and its unique identity. This is exactly what Putin wants to destroy: he wants to deny Ukraine’s identity. That’s why we are here, on the cultural frontline.”

According to Kostyuk, green-haired Mavka, with runes on her face and cute forest friends, has become a “cultural diplomat” in her own right.

“She has made our culture visible, but not only because we are a country at war. We are a nation that can create beautiful things. War is our reality, but not our identity.”

Finally free of PG restrictions, new Mavka will embrace scarier, thriller-ish elements. But there will be space for an even more “intense” love affair, too.

“At the heart of the story lies a romance between Mavka and Lukyan, a biologist who stumbles upon her in the forest. As their relationship blossoms, they must navigate the complexities of love amidst the dark forces that threaten to tear them apart,” teased FILM.UA Group’s Julia Ivankevich. Underlining that now, Mavka’s story will be taken to a “whole new level.”

Through their journey, viewers will be drawn into a world of passion, betrayal and redemption, where “the boundaries between human and supernatural blur.”

“Originally depicted as the souls of drowned young women, with their bare spines visible through thin white dresses, Mavkas were vengeful and dangerous creatures. Alongside other nymphs, they would lure unsuspecting men into forest lakes. However, the film’s character embodies a dual nature as both a demonic force and a tender soul.”

While the team is also developing an animated series – having partnered with France’s TeamTo – the darker side of these legends will be further explored in other stories.

“We are not only thinking about these universes: We are already creating them,” said Kostyuk, mentioning a line-up of new horror films starting with “The Witch. Revenge.” Currently in post-production, it will be released in the fall.

In “The Dam,” female soldier known as Mara – after a goddess presiding over the world of the dead – fights an even greater evil: Soviet zombies, left sealed in a bunker after the Cold War. At one point, Mara might even meet The Witch.

“These films are unique, because they are built around female characters with some mythological background, but they are set against the backdrop of current events. In ‘The Witch,’ she takes revenge on the Russian soldiers who killed her beloved. Now, she kills them – one by one, each in a different manner,” added Kostyuk.

“Still, according to the film’s message, no matter how righteous your rage may feel, it’s important to always stay on the side of the light. Otherwise, you will turn into a monster yourself.”

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