not the end goal. “House of Chips” became an advocacy tool – an interview with Azad Safarov
On March 12, the 95th Academy Awards ceremony took place. This year, the documentary about Ukrainian orphans “A House Made of Splinters” (A House Made of Splinters) competed for the statuette in the best documentary category. The documentary film directed by Simon Lereng Wilmont tells about the life of Ukrainian children from a shelter near the front line, as well as about children from the territories occupied by Russia. “House of Chips” is a film jointly produced by Denmark, Sweden, Ukraine and Finland. The film did not win the Oscar, instead the Film Academy gave its votes to the film “Navalnyi”.
About what the film “House of Chips” has become for the creative team, about their work in promoting the Ukrainian narrative in the West, about the need to counter Russian fakes and the urgency of Ukrainian cultural expansion already now, until the victory of Ukraine – the second director of the film, line producer, documentarian and journalist Azad Safarov told Voice of America journalist Natalia Leonova.
Natalia Leonova: Azad, congratulations on your nomination. In my opinion, this is already a big victory. However, the Academy made a different choice. Is there any disappointment on your part?
Azad Safarov: There is disappointment that Russian propaganda, Russian manipulation is still operating. And the fact that they still know how to promote their heroes there, where there are absolutely no heroes, is a bubble. But it would be unethical for me to comment on the decision of the Film Academy. It is what it is.
We are Ukrainians: we do not complain, we continue to fight, and we prove everywhere, and we will talk and prove about us, about what we are, and debunk Russian fakes. To show that where people think that there are heroes, in fact there are absolutely none in Russia, and I very much doubt that there will ever be.
We are Ukrainians: we do not complain, we fight on, and we prove everywhere and will speak and prove about ourselves and debunk Russian fakes
N.L.: Regarding your film, have you fulfilled the task that you set yourself before you started working on this film?
A.S.: I don’t want to praise myself, but I think that the team has done the maximum in the last ten days here in Los Angeles to tell a larger audience, more foreign media, journalists about what is happening in Ukraine, about Russian crimes against Ukrainian children, about the Russian war against Ukraine. That was the main thing for us.
In general, this film has ceased to be just a film, it has become an advocacy tool. Before the “Oscar”, there were a lot of reviews, reviews about the film in foreign media, in specialized media that relate to cinema and not only cinema. It’s the Los Angeles Times, it’s Variety, Hollywood Reporter – everywhere, when they wrote about the film, it was clear that they were writing about the context, about Russia’s war against Ukraine, and this is important for us.
Even if we win an Oscar, it’s not the end for us… our work is just beginning. Through this film, we continue to talk about Ukraine, about our problems due to Russian aggression. This is important for us. That is, we cannot say that we have already fulfilled it, we continue to fulfill it. It’s just the first time it’s on the Oscar platform, but we’re extending our work.
While we were here, we did a lot of screenings at American universities, such as Stanford, Harvard, Georgetown, Columbia University, and we continue to do so. A very big thank you to the Ukrainians, especially our PR friend Anna Arima, who organized everything. Here, when we went to these shows, we were treated and responded very warmly.
I want to clarify: if the Academy did not vote for us, it does not mean that the Americans are not for us. No, no, no, the Americans are for us. A lot of Americans came up to us, hugged us, asked about Ukraine, showed their tokens from Azovstal, which they bought through United 24. A lot of feedback, everyone asked for some small trifle from Ukraine to take away. We even made brooches from broken windows from Ukraine with a heart in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. They came up and begged to give them. We explained that it was for the team to present it at the Oscars so they could see where we came from, what we came for, what we’re here for. But everyone asked to give them at least something from Ukraine.
This film has ceased to be just a film, it has become an advocacy tool… Through this film, we continue to talk about Ukraine, about our problems due to Russian aggression.
N.L.: That is, the Dolby cinema is not the end goal, but only the starting point to continue your own narrative. If we talk about the tape, which among others competed with you in this category, and which won. This is a documentary about Navalny, a Russian opposition politician. At the same time, President Zelensky was refused to address the audience due to the argument that the Oscars are not about politics. How do you perceive this argument as an artist and as an average person.
A.S.: In fact, even before the news that he would not be performing, we were really looking forward to him performing. He performed at BAFTA, at other venues, we really expected that he would be here as well. We are very sorry that this did not happen, because we do not believe that any event can be outside of politics now, when Ukraine and Ukrainians are defending not only themselves, but also the entire free world. Therefore, I do not think that it can be said that something can be outside of politics.
We do not believe that any event can be outside of politics now, when Ukraine and Ukrainians are defending not only themselves, but also the entire free world.
Actually he is [Навальний – ред. ГА] is not a Russian oppositionist. This is a so-called Russian oppositionist from the so-called country of Russia. Because a person who supported the annexation of Crimea, a person who did not do anything to stop the war or oppose Russia’s war against Ukraine, cannot be considered an oppositionist. But I’ll say it again, it’s a beautiful bubble, and it’s been really well developed with the big budget, the money they had.
Our film does not have such a budget, we tried to bet on the quality of the film, but unfortunately, the winners won. The main thing here is not to add even more PR to this person, so we don’t want to comment on it. We believe that if Ukrainians are not satisfied with this decision, the best thing they can do is to go to the cinemas now, right now, in Ukraine, where they are showing House of Chips, and help Ukrainian cinema, support Ukrainian cinema. This will be the best investment in Ukrainian cinema, then we will be able to make even better, even more films, and win not only Oscars. Because, believe me, Oscar is not the end of the road, it’s just the beginning.
In fact, he (Navalny-ed. GA) is not a Russian oppositionist, he is a so-called Russian oppositionist from the so-called country of Russia.
N.L.: This is actually a continuation of this thought. During the last year, there is such a very powerful tendency – to cancel Russia in many areas, in particular in the cultural one. Is this enough? Should Ukrainian cultural expansion take place in parallel? Is it possible that now is not the time, and Ukraine should wait for its victory? Is it necessary to carry out cultural decolonization, cultural expansion now?
A.S.: I believe that it should be done simultaneously, both. It’s too bad that there is a war now, but I believe that for many it gave an impetus to do something here and now.
Many people realized that here and now they have to speak, speak, tell the world, bring out their culture and values. There is an information war, and a war on the front, and there is also a cultural war. And this gentle Ukrainization has to proceed at an enormous pace.
There is an information war, and a war on the front, and there is also a cultural war… I hope that after the victory, we will have a much larger budget for culture, and we will be able to convey our values to the world through our culture.
Due to the fact that now all the budgetary resources of the state are directed to support us at the front, there are no such huge funds, which are available in Europe or here in America, for the support of culture. I really want there to be more Ukrainian cinema in the world, because I really believe that we have very cool producers, very cool directors, the only thing is that we have to make more films.
I hope that after the victory, we will have a much larger budget for culture, and we will be able to tell the world about our values through our culture, which is also Ukrainian culture.
Because, unfortunately, Russian culture and pop, it has entered everywhere, and this is also their method of aggression and expansion, it starts with their so-called culture. Therefore, we have to act comprehensively here, and here there must be huge support from the state, grant institutions, so that cultural artists can do something.
N.L.a: Thank you, Azad, for your work, good luck!
A.S.: Thank you!