Despite the fact that from the very foundation of the USSR, women's emancipation was promoted as a state policy, in the 1920s film directors and cinematographers were almost exclusively men.
The most famous Soviet female directors of the 1930s – Vera Stroeva and Margarita Barskaja – began their film careers in the 1920s in Ukraine, at the Odesa Film Studio of VUFKU. After their departure to Russia, Їvha Hryhorovych remained the only Ukrainian female director for a long time.
After graduating from the VUFKU Odesa Film School in 1928, Hryhorovych interned on the set of Heorhij Stabovyj’s feature films EKSPONAT Z PANOPTYKUMU (EXHIBIT FROM THE PANOPTICON, 1929), and STUPATY ZAVAŽAJUT' (THEY PREVENT YOU FROM MOVING FORWARD, 1930). During the filming of the former, she met the avant-garde artist Volodymyr Muller, whom Hryhorovych would later engage as a set designer on her film CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR PROMOTION in 1932.
Hryhorovych's independent film career began in 1929, the year when dramatic changes took place in the structure of Soviet film production. To ensure the industrialization and collectivization campaigns launched by the Communist Party, the USSR government decided on priority production of agitprop and educational films. The production of feature films was reduced to a 1/3 of the total Ukrainian film production in 1931, and their content became the target of severe censorship.
Under these circumstances, Hryhorovych made her non-fiction debut with the popular science film ŽINCI PRO ŽINKU (FOR WOMAN ABOUT A WOMAN, 1930), a feminist essay about the peculiarities of the female body, its hygiene, the processes of fertilization and childbirth. Made with physiological candor, the film was supplemented by animated segments.
In 1930, compulsory general primary education was introduced in the USSR. Its task was defined as "educating a generation capable of ultimate establishment of communism". The following year, the government of the Soviet Ukraine made a decision to organize a children's and youth section at the Ukrainfilm production company, which was to deal with the production and distribution of children's films: according to the plan for 1932, children’s films would comprise 25% of the total Ukrainian film production.
Therefore, in 1932, Hryhorovych began filming the full-length children's film CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR PROMOTION based on her own script, which promoted the Soviet educational reform aimed at the polytechnicization of school education. Hryhorovych's next two children's features BUD'ONYŠI (short, 1935) and SONJAČNYJ MASKARAD (SUNNY MASQUERADE, 1936), have not survived.
The only female director in the Ukrainian cinema of the 1930s, Hryhorovych, is unfortunately an almost unknown figure today. Primarily focusing on children's feature films during the first stage of her career, she simultaneously made purely "instructional", propaganda, scientific and educational films commissioned by the government that reflected the changing policies of the Communist Party and became her main focus from the mid-1940s onward. Before she retired in the mid-1970s she had made more than 30 films, some of them dedicated to prominent Ukrainian artists such as Oleksandr Dovzhenko.
CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR PROMOTION, which was long considered lost and was recently digitized by the German Federal Archives, is the only one of Hryhorovych’s children's films to survive. Thanks to its rediscovery, Їvha Hryhorovych regains her place in the history of Ukrainian children's cinema alongside such male pioneer masters of the genre as Aksel Lundin (VAN'KA TA MESNYK [VANYA AND THE AVENGER, 1928], PRYHODY POLTYNNYKA [THE ADVENTURES OF HALF A RUBLE, 1929]) and Lazar Frenkel (BEZPRYTUL'NI [STREET KIDS, 1928], SAM SOBI ROBINZON [ROBINSON FOR HIMSELF, 1929], TOM SAWYER ).
Ivan Kozlenko, 2023