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A documentary about the Ukrainian ‘Revolution of Dignity’ was screened at the Artdocfest film festival. Producers Darya Averchenko and director Roman Bondarchuk spoke to The St. Petersburg Times ahead of the Russian shows via Skype from Riga.
By Sergey Chernov
“Euromaidan: Rough Cut,” a documentary made by young Ukrainian filmmakers about the three-month long protest in Kiev which drove Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich out of power, is scheduled to be premiered as part of the Artdocfest documentary film festival in St. Petersburg this week.
Producers Darya Averchenko and Roman Bondarchuk spoke to The St. Petersburg Times ahead of the Russian shows via Skype from Riga, Latvia, where they introduced the film as part of Artdocfest’s screenings within the Riga International Film Festival.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for the film?
Averchenko: We also do the documentary human rights film festival Docudays UA, and we had a dilemma about how to open the festival because it started a month after these sad and heroic events on Maidan. We thought that the best we could do was to turn to the directors who filmed the revolutionary protests and ask them for their videos to collect such an almanac. We wanted to give an account of the events.
Bondarchuk: Our festival office is located 50 meters from Maidan and it became a warming center; we had journalists, filmmakers and activists sleeping there, so we saw each other and understood roughly who had what footage. That’s why when the time came to have a festival we simply collected the pieces that we thought captured the atmosphere of what happened in Kiev. This is a personal outlook, which will help not only to recreate the chronology but also to feel what we felt last winter.
The chronology is important too because there were a great deal of contradictory reports and disinformation. This wave of propaganda had already started then; nothing was clear and we wanted to show it how we saw it with our eyes, at least to the guests who would come to our festival.
Q: Who were the people that shot the film? Were they all professionals or were there amateurs?
Bondarchuk: We have 10 short stories, two of which were made by me. Two or even three sequences were made by Babylon 13, a movement of documentary filmmakers and social activists who have united in an anarchic way and posted their work on the Internet, and we found them and took several pieces from them. But they are all filmmakers; I don’t think there was anybody who wasn’t a filmmaker.
Q: What equipment did you use?
Bondarchuk: Well, everything was spontaneous; whatever anybody had, it was all different. I had a good film camera but the other guys had mostly photo cameras. It all got broken and smashed on a regular basis. These guys returned at night with a broken finger and a hole in the camera, with the microphone snapped off, and borrowed something else for the next day. Nobody focused on the quality or on what to film because such things happened so that it was clear that one should film it on whatever is available.
Q: Is it possible to recreate all the different stages of Euromaidan by watching your film?
Bondarchuk: We did not try to embrace everything because this revolution was I think the first which was broadcast live. There were some crazy examples of reports when a man is running with an iPad and shouts, “Put me on air!” while people get killed before his very eyes. That’s why there was no attempt to reproduce the chronology and instead it is about some specific emotional experiences and some turning points of the revolution. We started with the Christmas tree, which became the symbol of the beginning of the protest, as we feel and understand it because they first tried to disperse Euromaidan because of it, and the confrontation first started from there. They’re very subjective pieces and we added intertitles between them to explain the context and chronology. You can understand what the protest was about, why it started and what we achieved with it, because our bloody dictator ran off as the result. I think we managed to make an informational film from which you can understand what happened, as well as feel it.
Q: Does the film cover all the important stages of Maidan?
Bondarchuk: We don’t have all the events in the film. Of course, the idea of this almanac was also that every participant dreams of doing their own film about Maidan. So these pieces are like promises of a separate film made by every single director about one individual event.
Averchenko: We planned to make it a film to open Docudays UA, but we did not plan to work with it as a separate project. But the guests who were at our festival told us that it turned out to be a very important film and that they would recommend it to other festivals because it was a very important weapon in the information war. But honestly speaking we sent it to two or three festivals and did not work with it too much; then a great number of requests started to come. I think “Euromaidan” has already visited ten festivals. We try to go to every festival and speak there. Actually, it is our condition: we always go with the film to speak about the events of Ukraine, about what Maidan was really like.
Bondarchuk: Well, at least to share our impressions about what happened there. I don’t see it as a serious weapon in the information war, but it’s always astonishing to see that it’s something totally new for people.
Q: Maidan has been described as the Revolution of Dignity. What was it for you?
Bondarchuk: This is about how we feel. It was an absolutely new experience that is difficult to express in one or two words. Different people of different social backgrounds and from different regions came there with an aim to –
Averchenko: To overthrow the criminal regime.
Bondarchuk: Yes, everybody had had enough. I felt this unity not in the demands to join the European Union, even if it is a different civilizational path than what we had gone down before, but everybody was united in striving for building a fair country and society here at last. And this was felt in everything starting with some support for each other and ending with some acts of art and songs. It’s difficult to put it in words; it’s easier in film where one can hear and see it. It’s amazing how total strangers get together with an aim to build a barricade; how they find links between themselves, how they start interacting. It was an example of people organizing from below and of building a society from the mass of people. That’s what was remarkable, exciting and amazing.
Averchenko: It should be said that Maidan revealed a lot of good in people. A lot of new heroes emerged. Many activists were elected to the new parliament in the recent election. We have great hopes that it is another chance for us to build everything anew.
Bondarchuk: And many initiatives emerged that still live on. For instance, Automaidan, which used to remind politicians about their responsibility, continues to exist and spread throughout Ukraine. It’s a tool of public control over the authorities.
The protest was peaceful for about three months: not a single shop window was broken, everybody watched out for each other lest anybody should drink and spoil the peaceful protests. So when a battle on Ulitsa Grushevskogo started, we all thought that it was a terrible, ruthless and absolutely hopeless thing, which compromised the revolution for good, and that everything now would be horrible. But it was that this violence that seemed horrible and unacceptable that, in my view, led to the flight of Yanukovych and to the victory of this revolution. Maidan was such a new experience that you can’t explain it in just a few words. It was an immense act of transformation of the people who were there from passive contemplators into active participants ready to change things.
Q: How do viewers react to the film?
Bondarchuk: We had a totally unexpected reaction at Docudays UA. The film ends with the song “Plyve Kacha po Tysyni” as performed by V.V. This is an old Lemko song, essentially a requiem. It was played when the Heavenly Hundred were buried. And we invited Mariana Sadovska, the singer who performs this song, to conclude the screening. She sang at the end of the film. The audience got up and sang along and then sang the anthem, and then some old songs that they knew, and we could not even end the ceremony and close the film theater. It was shortly after Maidan and people probably needed some therapy, to speak to someone about it. And here was an occasion when there were people with the same experience.
Averchenko: People cried and we had to do another screening. There was a huge demand for the film across the country. We have screened it a lot in the regions as part of the Docudays UA Traveling Festival. The response is great since the subject of Maidan has not yet been sufficiently discussed.
Bondarchuk: I have observed that there is a very noticeable tension in Ukraine because of the war and the uncertainty that people found themselves in, and people cannot yet look at these events as viewers. I was at the premiere of the Babylon 13 film a week ago and when the anthem is played in the film, the entire audience got up and sang it. The viewers in Ukraine don’t see it as just a film; they feel everything as participants of the events.
Speaking about foreign screenings, it depends on how far it is from Ukraine. For instance, in Poland, where the context is similar and people understand what happened and know more about the events, people reacted very warmly and discussions were very good. But when we screened it in Switzerland, the people did not know anything. For instance, one viewer said, “We did not know that it got so far there.” He meant burning houses in the center. They simply live a different life there.
I was stunned by one viewer who came to us after the screening with tears in his eyes and said, “I am an ordinary teacher and I suddenly thought that I could lose my routine life one day and turn into a person for whom books and other things don’t matter; instead I will fight and discover some animal instincts in myself.” He had this fear and almost cried. But this is a different dimension, and I think it’s also important to make people think about it. At least the discussions have been interesting everywhere. Even if there are opponents and people suspicious of Maidan there, it’s always interesting to speak after the screening.
Q: Have you ever encountered any problems with screening the film?
Bondarchuk: We were supposed to have a screening in Scotland. People who lead film clubs in several cities there wanted to screen “Euromaidan” and there were four refusals from different film theaters. They watched the trailer and said, in a direct way, that they would not like to screen anything that could potentially influence relations with Russia. They think that since it is about Maidan, it may be dangerous. Even in Scotland.
Q: Will the film be available on the Internet?
Bondarchuk: We have a couple of proposals from television channels. If they are confirmed, we’ll show it on television first and then post it on the Internet. If they are not confirmed, we’ll post it on the Internet at once because this is a case when it’s more important that people watch it than all the marketing stuff.