The International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film starts today. Until 23 October, the audience will have a chance to watch the Spotlight on: Docudays UA 2022 programme, which includes four films from this year’s DOCU/UKRAINE national competition.
About contexts, the figure of social unity, and irony about social rituals which everybody understands. In his review of the programme, film critic Serhiy Ksaverov looks for intersections and oppositions in the perception of the films by Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian audiences.
Infinity According to Florian (dir. Oleksiy Radynski) is clearly the most accessible film for the European public in terms of content. This is a story of the classic confrontation between a visionary creator and a representative of wild capitalism who wants to destroy his work. This convenient and comfortable trope allows us to recognize the film as almost universal. However, these films usually take place in defined and institutionalized dimensions where the positions of the parties are clear, where they base their actions on their morals and operate within existing structures, subject to government regulations. The positions of the parties are defined here as well, but not the framework in which they exist and act. The battle for the building which is the focus of the entire film takes place and is filmed at the same time as the meanings of why it actually has to be defended are being carved out. Initially it does not constitute a cultural value recognized by the government. And this is a characteristic feature around the status and fate of a lot of Soviet modernist architecture, which creates context that is hard to notice outside Ukraine.
Plai (dir. Eva Dzhyshyashvili) is easier to perceive for non-Ukrainian audiences due to numerous similar works in documentary cinema: observational films which observe people’s lives in places that are exotic for the audiences of European festivals. However, the life of the Malkovych family in Plai does not form the typical figure of juxtaposition. It does not refer to widespread patterns of harmonious coexistence with nature or, on the contrary, rural impoverishment caused by corrupt government policies. For the Ukrainian audience, the family of the protagonists is clearly a figure of unity, a testimony to the fact that the entire Ukrainian society has been fundamentally permeated by the war and the accompanying trauma since 2014.
Personally I am the most interested in seeing how the DOK Leipzig audience will perceive the film Mountains and Heaven in Between (dir. Dmytro Hreshko). It was filmed at a location that is too exotic even for a significant share of the Ukrainian audience. However, it seems to me that this is one of the most social and representative films in our documentary cinema in the past few years. Mountains and Heaven in Between is a panorama of a Carpathian village through its protagonists, ambulance workers, during the first years of COVID-19. This film is saturated with interactions between people — in this sense it could be paired with Pryvoz (dir. Eva Neymann), filmed in the opposite part of Ukraine and focused, in contrast, on the urbanized lifestyle.
I think that Mountains and Heaven in Between must be perceived as ironic in Ukraine. And this irony about social rituals which cannot be eliminated by any fear of an unknown virus should definitely be understandable for the DOC Leipzig audience. Although, of course, understanding the context sometimes significantly intensifies the film’s emotional perception.
Main photo: a still from Mountains and Heaven in Between
The Spotlight on: Docudays UA 2022 programme was made possible with the support of the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media (BKM). Thanks to support by the Ukrainian Institute and the Goethe-Institut and Goethe-Institut in Exile, additional filmmakers and delegations from Ukraine will be able to participate in the festival and the industry offerings in Leipzig.