Ukraine’s film-makers can’t pick up guns, but their cameras are vital weapons
Darya Bassel/The Guardian:
Ukraine’s Maidan revolution of 2014, or as we call it, “the revolution of dignity”, coincided with the 11th year of a documentary film festival which takes place annually in Kyiv.
The 2014 edition of Docudays UA started just as the revolution ended, so the main visual used throughout our programming was a burning heart. Our audience of thousands had just come through a heartbreaking chapter, recently burying 100 of our fellow citizens killed on Maidan square, fighting for our country’s freedom. Our main festival venue, the Kyiv cinema house, was packed out, with an atmosphere I’ll never forget.
Today, not only are our land and people threatened, but our culture too. Kyiv’s museums are currently evacuating their collections into basements or, if they’re lucky, out of the country. In this struggle to safeguard our culture, documentaries have a unique role: films are less destructible and can more easily be distributed for the world’s online audiences to see. Ukraine has a rich history of documentary film-making with archives that record the lives of our people over many decades. Moreover, Ukrainian documentaries will be a striking testament in the future to the events unfolding now.
While many have taken up arms to defend our country, the network of documentary film-makers I work with have used the next best weapon they have to hand: their cameras. And like our citizen armies they are risking their lives to go out and film. This war has started in a fog of fake news, propaganda and deadly lies, so film-makers are doing whatever they can to counter this by recording the reality of what is going on around them and attempting to get it out to international audiences. The truth lies in front of them and they are eager to document, record and preserve for the world to see – now and in the future – what has happened here. President Biden has already claimed that Vladimir Putin is a war criminal, and in documenting the crimes we see around us, we can only bolster that claim.
This year would have been our 19th Docudays UA festival. Our carefully curated programme of screenings and events was due to take place right now, with our usual international audience joining the debate. When the war started we were forced to cancel, and in place of the screenings, we are turning to a variety of online projects one of which is the launch, with the Guardian, of three acclaimed films.
The selection we curated with Guardian Documentaries were all shot before this current war but they all started one way or another with the Maidan revolution. They are important therefore, not only in giving context to what is happening now but to offer a counter to the violent imagery of news reporting, with a more intimate and artful look at Ukrainian people and culture.
Beyond that, all of the films were made with European co-producers and have won prestigious film awards at European film festivals, a cultural connection that must remain strong.
The revolution in 2014 instigated a new wave of Ukrainian documentary films and some of the biggest names in our industry right now shaped their careers during this pivotal moment in our country’s history. Film-makers headed straight towards the war in Donbas and to the occupation of Crimea, staying there for months or even years, going beyond the news headlines to capture daily life under siege.
The film-makers presented in our Guardian collaboration, Alina Gorlova, Yelizaveta Smith and Irena Stetsenko definitely belong to this Maidan generation. They are the generation with the burning hearts.
Darya Bassel is a film producer, programmer and head of industry at Docudays UA, the Ukrainian international human rights film festival.
Guardian Documentaries latest release is dedicated to the rich and vibrant world of Ukrainian cinema, showing excerpts of three award-winning Ukrainian films. This project is presented in collaboration with Kyiv-based film festival Docudays UA. Two out of the three films can be seen in their entirety at DocHouse Cinema London, on 5 and 6 April as part of a project called “Stand with Docudays”, produced by One World Media, Bertha Dochouse and Guardian Documentaries. Profits from the screenings will go to Docuhelp, a fund set up to support Ukrainian film-makers. Click here for tickets to screenings.