An interview with Ukrainian director Damian Kolodiy about Russia’s main weapon in the war against Ukraine: the media.
The ongoing violence in Eastern Ukraine has given Ukrainian filmmakers a tragic field from which they are harvesting a trove of documentary and creative films. The three years since the conflict began have seen a wave of films about the struggle of war, both on the frontlines and for families at home.
“There are a lot of stories to tell now that are quite dramatic that didn’t really exist 10 years ago, life and death and war related,” said Damian Kolodiy, Ukrainian filmmaker.
From April 27-30, the Ukrainian Museum in the East Village presented the third annual Ukrainian Museum Film Festival.
“Film provides a way for people to digest and reflect, or escape the climate of conflict in Ukraine, and plays an important role in the social fabric of a country,” said Kolodiy, curator of Friday night’s series of short films.
Russian media still have influence on Ukrainian public opinion, twisting news in their favor or releasing fake news. Film is no exception, as the government of Vladimir Putin attempts to portray the war with Ukraine through its eyes.
An example is Russia’s reaction to “Be Back,” directed by Ukrainian filmmaker Andriy Kyryllov. The film is a five minute, yet infinitely powerful monologue of a girl missing her boyfriend who is fighting in Eastern Ukraine. The film has been used to help soldiers whose families are waiting back home, to assure them that they are missed and loved.
In a Q&A session Friday night after the showing of his film at the Ukrainian Museum, Kyryllov spoke about Russia trying to spin the meaning of his film after it gained traction on social media. Their interpretation was aimed at making the Ukrainian’s war with Russia seem ridiculous, and that the girl wanted the war to end and her boyfriend to come home because Ukraine should not be resisting Russia in the first place.
“There are certainly people who want to respond by making their own content and expose the lies that are coming out of Moscow,” said Kolodiy, speaking about Ukrainian directors creating their own films about war.
Organizer of the Ukrainian Museum Film Festival Hanya Krill said that looking at the history of Ukrainian cinema, Russian interference is nothing new.
“Ukraine had a very active film industry of its own that was cut off by Moscow in the 1930s. So it really kind of stopped and everything that was done from there forward was directed out of Moscow as opposed to being Ukrainian,” said Krill.
When Ukraine gained its freedom from Russia in 1991, their film industry started to regrow. “Filmmakers suddenly realized they were able to do things without direction coming from Moscow,” said Krill.
Now, along with Russia encroaching on Ukraine once again, comes the Russian grip on film and all other Ukrainian media.
“Russia has made their own historical films which have reinterpreted historical events in Russia’s favor. The victor writes the history books, so they’re trying to do that,” said Kolodiy.
“Be Back,” Kyryllov’s first film as a director, was a result of lack of opportunity for Ukrainian actors. Previously an actor, Kyryllov said he stopped his acting career because there was nothing but Russian influenced roles.
“When I was an actor, I can really remember the moment when Russia and Putin started putting out Russian military oriented films,” said Kyryllov. “They started to shoot in Ukraine, and every movie and serious role was 50/50 with Russia, with the money and with the actors.”
“That’s really why I stopped my acting career. There was nothing except these kinds of scripts, with Russian police or military,” said Kyryllov.
“A lot of Ukrainian directors and filmmakers work on Russian movies to make money, then make their own films on the side. So the war has certainly influenced that business model,” said Kolodiy.
“Homefront” directed by Illia Makarenko, another short film featured in the festival, told the depressing story of two sisters left behind by their father who has gone to fight for Ukraine. The theme of a broken home seems to be reoccurring in recent Ukrainian films.
“Families are disrupted and the normal family unit isn’t functioning the way it should be. There’s a lot of domestic issues and soldiers coming back with traumas,” said Kolodiy. “They’re not as well equipped to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and that’s just something that Ukrainians are trying to learn how to deal with.”
The films being produced by Ukrainians are a beautiful byproduct of struggle and loss, that showcase talent and triumph.
“Ukrainians are very talented people. We’ve seen some amazing films coming out of Ukraine,” said Krill.