EAST VILLAGE — Ukrainian culture is returning to the East Village — on the silver screen.
Kinofest NYC, a fledgling Ukrainian film festival, opens Thursday night in a neighborhood once known as a magnet for Ukrainian immigrants, packed with Ukrainian restaurants, churches and community groups.
While many of those immigrants have since moved elsewhere, a small contingent of those who remain started the film festival in 2010 to boost awareness of the East Village's cultural history and of the many issues confronting modern-day Ukrainians.
"It gives a voice to people who would have a tough time being heard outside of that area," said Andrew Kotliar, a volunteer organizer of the film festival and a second-generation Ukrainian American. "It's a really great way to bridge the divide."
Now in its third year, Kinofest NYC has grown into a three-day festival with more than 25 films from Ukraine and other former Soviet countries, all shown at the East Village's Ukrainian Museum and the nearby Anthology Film Archives.
A handful of Ukrainian directors will make their first trip to the United States to participate in panel discussions about their country's young but growing film industry and the continued struggle for free expression.
Volodymyr Tykhyy, from Kiev, will speak about his film project "Goodbye, Ukraine!" that addresses the reasons why approximately 6 million people have left Ukraine since the country became independent in 1991. The festival will screen seven of the short films in the series, exploring everything from the difficulty of providing for a family to a youthful relationship disrupted by emigration.
Other films include "Firecrosser" by Mykhailo Illienko, one of the first commercially successful big-budget Ukrainian films, which tells the true story of a Ukrainian man who escaped Stalin's gulag and fled to Canada, where he became chief of a native tribe.
"These are stories that [Americans] aren't exposed to," said Damian Kolody, a Ukrainian-American filmmaker who lives in the East Village and helped organize the festival. "The idea is to bring people together to a place where we can have discussions."
Kinofest NYC will be held May 3 to 6 at the Ukrainian Museum, 222 E. 6th St., and Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Ave. For show times and to buy tickets, visit the festival's website.