Ukraine: Documentary films generate hope | Europe/Central Asia | DW | 23.09.2016
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Ukraine: Documentary films generate hope

Three films, one theme: The possibility of reconciliation in the midst of the war. They were produced by Ukrainian filmmakers from the east and west with support from DW Akademie. Now the films were screened.

From left: Irene Langemann, Maryna Zhukovska, Mychajlo Moskalenko, Tetyana Kuzmintschuk and Andrzej Klamt

From left: Irene Langemann, Maryna Zhukovska, Mychajlo Moskalenko, Tetyana Kuzmintschuk and Andrzej Klamt

12 TV journalists and filmmakers from all parts of Ukraine came together in November 2014 to produce documentaries addressing the conflict in eastern Ukraine, under the guidance of German director Irene Langemann and German filmmaker Andrzej Klamt. Participants from eastern and southern Ukraine worked in three teams together with participants from the West of the country. The project “Promoting national dialogue" was financed by Germany'' Foreign Office (AA). The resulting film trilogy, "Ukraine, November 2014" premiered at the goEast Film festival for Eastern European films in Wiesbaden on April 21, 2015. Three participants attended the screening and talked about their experiences.

Your films were made under very unusual circumstances. You, the participants of the documentary film workshop"Promoting National Dialogue", all came from different parts of the country and shot the films near the embattled regions of Ukraine. How did these conditions affect your films?
Mychajlo Moskalenko: There's no doubt the war in Ukraine influenced our films, especially where our choice of topics was concerned. All three films are connected to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, about its impact and the fate of the people who have been caught up in these terrible events. Our experiences working with colleagues from other parts of the country have all been positive. We've become friends, which again confirms that there are no barriers or differences between people from eastern and western Ukraine.
Tetyana Kuzmintschuk: Our team worked very well together on making the film "Behind The Screen of War". Although my colleague Andrij and I come from Lwiw in western Ukraine and the other half of the team comes from the city of Mariupol on the frontline of the conflict, our world views and ways of looking at the current political situation were absolutely identical. That brought it home to us once more that Ukraine is actually one united country.
Maryna Zhukovska: It's true that from the start the working conditions were very unusual. But we quickly adapted to the challenge because for us the aim of the project -to make films - was really exciting. And during the course of the project we found ourselves speaking a common language.

What was the most exciting thing for you about working collaboratively on this project?
Kuzmintschuk: Everything about the project was interesting because my colleagues and I had no previous experience making documentaries. We learned together and discussed everything down to the smallest detail. It was real teamwork.
Zhukovska: Originally we had a few disagreements about deciding on a topic. For certain topics, more time was needed before they could be processed -they were just too fresh and current. Or it was hard to find protagonists. That was the case with the film "Time of Hospital". Filming in a hospital where an operation's being carried out every hour and the chief surgeon - one of our main protagonists - is always terribly busy, was a real challenge. But together with our trainers we were able to handle even that...
Moskalenko: I especially foundthe exchanges with the German trainers, Irene Langemann und Andrzej Klemt, to be very helpful. Because they're total professionals and one can learn a lot from them.

Checkpoints separate the West and East parts of Ukraine. However, there are also mental walls to overcome

Checkpoints separate the West and East parts of Ukraine. However, there are also "mental walls" to overcome

Why did you choose the topics you did? What was the thinking behind that?
Moskalenko: I'd already had the idea for the film "The Wall" before the workshop started. I think that's at the core of the current conflict - propaganda dividing people with what is essentially an imaginary wall.
Kuzmintschuk: We discussed dozens of topics and discarded many of them right away, for example because the fighting in Luhansk or Donezk would have made it impossible to film there. So we tried to find something current that would also allow us to film in the disputed regions. That's why we decided to tell the story of the Tschaikowsky family. It's a story about a refugee family that, in times of peace, had worked in a puppet theatre. We only decided to use this as the actual topic for our film after we got to know the family. They're strong, wise people who love their country despite all the loss and suffering, and who have the capacity to forgive.
Zhukovska: The idea behind "Time of Hospital" was to film people whose lives had changed overnight. To show how people had just transitioned from peace to a time of war. There are military doctors and their patients. With this film we wanted to show that human life is the most precious thing.

What kind of reaction did you get when the films were aired? Are you planning any further projects with your colleagues?
Zhukovska:We had a great response to our film! After it was aired, a foundation got in touch with our TV station and helped one of our protagonists - the injured Wadim Maznitschenko - to get good leg and hand prostheses, and they also found somewhere for him to stay.
Moskalenko:The response to our film was great, especially among viewers in western Ukraine. Right now we're looking for more film ideas and we'll be working on them together with our colleagues from Tscherniwzi.
Kuzmintschuk:Our TV station really liked our film and even aired it several times. We have developed friendly ties with our colleagues from Mariupol and would like to work together with them again in the future.

Ukraine is a country that's still in a state of emergency. In your opinion, how have things changed regarding freedom of the press?
Moskalenko: On the one hand, because of the economic crisis, many social and non-commercial documentaries are not getting financial support. On the other hand, all of the big TV stations are controlled by oligarchs who use them to achieve their own interests. So, as before, there are still certain topics that are taboo for journalists.
Zhukovska: It is hard for me to judge the state of media freedom in this situation. Politicians often use the war and the economic crisis to shield themselves, as they advise journalists not to criticize the Ukrainian government. We're also confronted with the fact that journalists who do criticize the government are branded as separatists or something similar.

What do you think documentaries can achieve given the current political situation?
Moskalenko: What is now happening in Ukraine is an artificial war driven by propaganda. The only way to resist it is to tell the truth to as many people as possible. Documentaries in particular, present a special opportunity to show what lies at the core of the events that are unfolding. Compared to the news reports, documentaries are less subjective.
Kuzmintschuk: Documentaries make it possible to provide a comprehensive picture when it comes to what is happening, and to offer more explanations. Right now, real heroes are emerging and historic events are unfolding. It's also incredibly important for this country to oppose the propaganda, and with documentaries one can better convey the truth.
Zhukovska: I really want to continue working on documentaries because I find that the audience still trusts this genre. Maybe I'm being romantic, but I hope that documentaries can influence the situation - like our film "Time of Hospital", which helped change the life of Wadim, who was inured, in a positive way.

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  • Author Olena Ponomarenko
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