Currently, there are two types of audio tracks for films in Ukraine: dubbing and voice-over. Dubbing completely removes the original language and replaces it with a Ukrainian-language audio track. The text for dubbing actors is created to adapt to the movement of the lips of the film’s hero. Voice-over is when the original audio track is muted but not completely deleted. A new audio track in Ukrainian is superimposed on it. However, to achieve full Ukrainianization of the cinema space, our country had to go a long way in the fight against Russification and the process of self-improvement in sound engineering.
Russification of Ukrainian dubbing
In Soviet times, foreign films were practically not dubbed into Ukrainian. Why? The only Russian translation was enough for the ‘united’ Soviet people. Only Russian-language films of the Ukrainian SSR could be dubbed into Ukrainian. However, in the late 1980s, the repertoire of cinemas was 99% Russian-language. Even the movies of Ukrainian film studios were broadcast in Russian.
The declaration of independence did not solve the problem of Ukrainian dubbing. Until 1995, there was an embargo on the distribution of American films in post-Soviet countries because of the lack of appropriate anti-piracy laws. Subsequently, the law on copyright came into force in Ukraine, and the embargo was lifted. The film distribution market was finally launched. However, all dubbing then was in Russian.
First steps towards Ukrainization
In those years, it was only possible to hear the Ukrainian language on television. Foreign films and TV series began to be dubbed by order of TV channels. In 1996, the Ukrainian TV channel ICTV aired the American sitcom “Alf”. The story of a funny alien appealed to the viewer, thanks to the good Ukrainian translation by Oleksii Nehrebetskyi. He became the main person, the voice of Ukrainian dubbing. After ‘Alf,’ he began to dub films for cinemas. In 2000, the TV channel held a kind of ‘Alf-marathon.’ The series was broadcast during the day with breaks for news releases.
Another popular series, ‘Friends,’ was dubbed into Ukrainian. The story about six young people with different characters became popular among Ukrainians. Moreover, thanks to the efforts of translators and voice actors, they could watch new episodes almost simultaneously with American viewers.
The heyday of Ukrainian dubbing
Despite the availability of relevant content on television, Ukrainians did not hear the Ukrainian language in cinemas for a long time. The turning point for Ukrainian dubbing was 2006. Then, the Cabinet of Ministers issued a decree on mandatory dubbing all foreign films into Ukrainian. The government assumed the transition would be gradual. In 2006, at least 20% of films had to be dubbed into Ukrainian, and from July 1, 2007 – at least 70%. Ukrainian film distributors, who worked directly with Hollywood majors, liked this decision.
In 2006, during the reign of the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, authorities introduced the mandatory dubbing of films into Ukrainian for cinema screening. At that time, 16 years ago, this decision caused a heated debate: distributors predicted higher ticket prices due to additional costs, and all experts claimed that viewers would stop going to the cinema. However, cinema revenues have grown. In 2010, under pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych, mandatory dubbing into Ukrainian was abolished. But during this time, Ukrainian dubbing has become a source of pride. It is constantly discussed, compared with the Russian one, and most often, people conclude that it is more accurate, appropriate and better adapted.
We must pay tribute to the Ukrainian actor and translator – they managed to create a unique product. They translated the film (as it is usually in Russia) and fully adapted it to Ukrainian realities. For example, in the Russian ‘Harry Potter,’ all the characters speak the same language. And in the Ukrainian version, the characters speak different dialects, as was in the English original.
Comparison of Ukrainian dubbing with foreign dubbing
One of the many features of Ukrainian films is dubbing all foreign movies released from the original language into Ukrainian. Not all European countries can boast of dubbing their films. For example, only cartoons are dubbed or voiced in Northern Europe and the Balkans. Other films are in the original language, with translation in the form of subtitles. The situation is similar in dwarf cinemas in other European countries, but in large cinema chains, foreign films are dubbed or fully dubbed in the national language. The sound engineer of the Polish recording studio ‘Hiventy Poland’ told our editorial office that a lecturer in Poland is the most common type of dubbing. A male (very rarely female) voice that reads the text in Polish over the original. Full-fledged dubbing began to develop somewhere in the 90s. The main reason for the popularity of the lecturer is the speed and low cost of production. If the full dubbing of one series season takes more than a month, the lecturer will take half the time and money.
The girl also worked in Ukraine and explains the difference in dubbing films: ‘Many Polish dubbing directors value naturalness and standard pronunciation, while in Ukraine, you can often find literary speech. I believe it is important to monitor the pronunciation of words in Ukrainian dubbing because in our everyday speech, there is often Russianism, incorrect accents, etc., and it is not very pleasant to hear this in the cinema. Also, feature films are rarely dubbed in Poland, so if you go to a Polish cinema, be prepared to watch the film with subtitles and original voice acting.’
How Ukrainian dubbing is developing now
While working in Ukraine, Marta noticed the following features of our dubbing. There are two schools of dubbing cartoons in Ukraine. The first one is that actors have to play in the film, just as in real life, in movies. In the second, actors change their voices, distort them and exaggerate. In the second school, the dubbing of the cartoon may differ from the film. Sometimes the characters are given unnatural voice changes that show their character traits. If the actors sang songs themselves, our actors should also sing in Ukrainian. For films where Hollywood stars sing professionally, they look for similar voices.
Dubbing has also changed a lot. Previously, it was enough just to hit ‘the lips’ so that the actor did not cut the hearing. If, for example, people were talking in a bar in the background, it was left without translation. Now everything has become much more scrupulous. It’s out of the question to just hit ‘the lips.’ The Polish sound engineer recalls her work in Ukraine, ‘We have to do a good translation, dub everything that sounds in the film. Over the years, our dubbing actors have grown a lot. Once it could take 12 days to record the main role of one actor, and now it can be recorded in 4 days, depending on the complexity of the role. Translators must translate the text competently, interestingly, and understandably, without intricate or outdated words. The translation is corrected by 20% during dubbing.’
During the war, many Ukrainian cinemas stopped working, and some in large cities continued operating with appropriate security measures. The audience has to leave the cinema during the air raid alert, and its administration will return the ticket money to them. Not all recording studios continued their work in Ukraine. Many Ukrainian actors visit dubbing and voice-over studios abroad, where they make a massive contribution to our cultural front.