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Opera singer’s ‘Magura’ film for Ukraine heads to Gog Magog hills





The production team for an international film project initiated by Cambridge-based opera singer Anna Starushkevych turned to the Gog Magog hills for the film Magura.

The hills feature as a backdrop for Anna, wearing a couture dress prominently featured in the film.

Anna Starushkeyvch at Gog Magog Hills. Picture: Dasha Tenditna
Anna Starushkeyvch at Gog Magog Hills. Picture: Dasha Tenditna

Magura – named after the goddess of justice, warcraft and victory in Ukrainian mythology – is being filmed on location in Cambridge, London and Lviv in Ukraine, and involves a musical ensemble performing Cara Sposa, an aria by Handel from his opera Rinaldo.

The project had its origins last September, when one of Anna’s relatives went missing on the front line of the defence of Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.

“The film is being made to highlight the issue of people who are missing in the war – it could be any war in a country that has been invaded,” says Lviv-born Anna at the Gog Farm Shop’s cafe after the filming on the Gogs was wrapped up. “The aria is used as a soundtrack throughout. It’s a narrative about a couple’s life before the war, during the war and after the war.”

The film is in three sections - in part one Anna plays one half of the couple opposite Ukrainian actor Jarko Sebalo; the second section describes the drama and pain of the war; and the final section sees Anna wearing the dress for the redemptive aftermath of post-war victory. The Gogs setting was chosen because of its likeness to Ukraine’s vast plains in this third section, where Magura appears.

Filmmaker Paul Bradshaw films Anna Starushkeyvch for 'Magura', a film about loss and redemption. Picture: Dasha Tenditna
Filmmaker Paul Bradshaw films Anna Starushkeyvch for 'Magura', a film about loss and redemption. Picture: Dasha Tenditna

“Our ancestors believed Magura was there to support the fighters for truth and fairness on the battlefield,” Anna adds. “Magura is also the goddess of victory – the belief is that if you fight for fairness and truth, you will win.”

The making of the film is helping Anna address the turmoil that happens when someone you know goes missing in a war.

“The first reason for the film is to raise awareness of the missing,” she says. “It’s a key, a trigger, for the discussion of how to support people affected by the issue of missing people. The second reason is to keep people’s hopes up – we live in hope for their safe return. And the third reason is to represent a future where the war is won.”

Yanis Stepanenko, couturier, designer of Anna Starushkevych dress
Yanis Stepanenko, couturier, designer of Anna Starushkevych dress

The dress was created by Ukrainian couturier Yanis Stepanenko for Eka Kapanadze, a renowned Ukrainian stylist and philanthropist.

“When I saw this dress on the red carpet at Cannes Film Festival last year I realised this is the dress I have to use!” says Anna. “For me it was the complete look inspired by Magura. At that point I didn’t know either of them, then I found out the dress was in London. It’s a couture dress, so it’s one of a kind.”

“All of this will at some point become a festival in Cambridge,” adds Anna.

Speaking to the Cambridge Independent about the dress, designer Yanis Stepanenko, founder of YS Couture, said: “The dress was originally mastered specially for last year’s Cannes Film Festival, as a special bespoke order for Eka Kapanadze, who was originally raised in Ukraine, but moved to London following the full scale invasion. It was crafted in the heart of Kyiv during the constant brutal shellings and blackouts.

“Seamstress, couture hand/embroidery masters, tailors and even brand models, all contributed to our fittings in order to tailor the dress perfectly without the actual client in place. It took up to two months to bring it all together from mood board development into the actual realisation.”

A jogger at the Anna Starushkeyvch shoot on Gog Magog Hills. Picture: Dasha Tenditna
A jogger at the Anna Starushkeyvch shoot on Gog Magog Hills. Picture: Dasha Tenditna

He added: “The ensemble carries a lot of philosophy and symbolism. The dress features ears of grain, symbolising the unity and prosperity of the Ukrainian people. The colour palette conveys the pain of Ukrainians, and our unity. The embroidered message on the train is dedicated to the freedom of the Ukrainian nation. Through the artistry of this dress, YS Couture endeavours to cast a global spotlight on Ukraine’s relentless pursuit of independence.”

The music for Magura is performed in London at St Peter’s Church, Notting Hill, by Endelienta Baroque, a period-instrument ensemble performing baroque music. The sound engineer is Jan Capinski and the film is being shot by Paul Bradshaw.

A trailer is expected in March, with the film launch to follow. The project is the first for Anna’s ‘Music Will Save The World’ not-for-profit enterprise.



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