The success of Ukrainian documentary – what was his path

The success of Ukrainian documentary – what was his path


The first “Oscar” for a Ukrainian documentary director Mstislav Chernova for the incredibly painful film “20 days in Mariupol”. With Vasilisa Stepanenko and Evgeny Maloletka they captured the city’s first 20 days at the start of a full-scale invasion, survived and took the materials to free territory to create a statement about our war to the world.

It became the most talked about news this week. In these discussions, there was a lot of joy, sadness, thoughts about whether this is really the first Ukrainian “Oscar” and indignation about the cynical rules of show business: “Disney” cut the award in the nomination “Best Documentary Film” from the television recording of the ceremony. However, under the pressure of Ukrainian complaints turned back

At the same time, this event coincided with announcement State cinema of a new film competition for state funding. Priority will be given to tapes that “document war crimes and record the heroism of various people”. The film community immediately called such selection criteria profanity, distorting the function of documentary. And they are also leveling its progress here in Ukraine in the last 10 years.

And there are many achievements in Ukrainian documentaries. For example, last year, the Ukrainian-Danish film “House of Chips” was nominated for the same Oscar in the same documentary category. Is the systematic work of the documentary film festival DOCUDAYS UAwhich did not cease to exist even after a full-scale invasion and even increased its international influence.

A frame from the movie “House of Chips”

“Ukrainian documentarians talentedly and confidently create universal works, understandable to the whole world, based on the material of our internal problems.” – says producer of the films “Peaceful People” and “House of Chips” Daria Bassel. “Even before the full-scale invasion, many Ukrainian films were created in international co-production. This means that the themes, characters, creative approaches of our directors were interesting to foreign producers and other players of the international film market.”

Daria recalls the festival success of Florian’s Infinity Oleksiy Radinsky, which had its world premiere in Rotterdam; “We will not fade away” Alisa Kovalenko – at the Berlinale; “Iron Butterflies” Roman Lyubo, “The earth is blue, like an orange” Iryna Cilyk – at Sundance. Short documentary works of Dmytro Suholytky-Sobchuk (“Liturgy of anti-tank obstacles”), Nadia Parfan (“I didn’t want to make a film about war”), Olga Zhurba (“Mykolaiv bakery: two years of war for an employee of the enterprise”) buy such online publications as the New Yorker and The Guardian.

A frame from the film We will not fade away

A frame from the movie “We will not go out”

Ukrainian documentarians are increasing their influence, he says Daria And shares exclusive news:

“Currently, the French-German public broadcaster ARTE is co-producing 12 documentaries about the war with Ukrainian producers. This is a large-scale project, unique in terms of the format of cooperation between the channel and the producers, designed to tell the world about Russia’s war against Ukraine. The new hit of documentary cinema, which was recently presented at Berlinale 2024 “Peaceful People” directed by Oksana Karpovych was also created within the framework of this project”.

Reflecting on the progress of Ukrainian documentary, Daria says that it did not arise yesterday. And since 2014, it has been flourishing: “Many factors coincided here: a new young generation appeared, whose creative development coincided with the events of the Maidan. Opportunities to finance cinema in Ukraine appeared for a certain period of time, and a certain environment already existed in the country, thanks to such events as the Docudays UA festival, which were held systematically and regularly. The international community knows and loves Ukrainian cinema.”

Darya is convinced that after Mstislav Chernov won an Oscar for “20 Days in Mariupol”, interest in Ukrainian documentaries and Ukrainian authors should reach a new level.

Team 20 days in Mariupol at Oscar

The team of “20 days in Mariupol” at Oscar

KEVIN WINTER / GETTY IMAGES

Last year, another significant event took place for Ukrainian documentaries. For the first time in history, IDFA – the world’s largest documentary film festival – opened with a Ukrainian film. Ukrainian-French film “Memory Photo” directors Olga Chernykh tells the story of a family forced to flee twice due to war first from Donetsk, and then from Kyiv region.

Yuliya Kovalenko, program director of the DOCUDAYS UA documentary film festival about the right person says that the surge that took place in 2022 is a natural reaction to what is happening to our Ukraine. But it is important to understand that the interest in Ukrainian documentaries in the world is connected not only with the Russian-Ukrainian war, but rather with the fact that our directors have high skill and create interesting pictures.

“20 Days in Mariupol” by Mstislav Chernov a vivid example of such skill. But, as it reminds Juliathis year we had another success – the participation of two documentaries in the official program of the Berlinaleone of the key festivals in Europe.

“This is a very high indicator. From the outside, it may seem that two films in the big program of a big festival are not that powerful. But, in fact, I would argue here, knowing the selection system and knowing that such big festivals have geographical quotas. Ukrainian cinema now attracts powerful, I would say very active, attention in the world on various large platforms”– he says festival programmerwhich was held for the tenth anniversary last year.

Awarding of the winners of the Docudays UA festival

Awarding of the winners of the Docudays UA festival

But the marker of recognition, according to Yulia, is not only the participation of finished films in class A festivals or their awards:

“Now we are not only organizing our festival. We are also actively trying to arrange with our friends and foreign partners from various festivals screenings of Ukrainian documentary films in the world. Because, in fact, this is a very effective way of conveying to foreign audiences information about what is happening in to Ukraine. As we can see, European countries still do not fully understand what is happening in our country. And the documentary film itself is a very good opportunity to raise difficult questions, start a difficult conversation and give people this safe space, so that they can do it themselves own conclusions”.

A separate topic distribution of documentary films in Ukraine: where can you watch it legally, is there a chance to watch festival hits on a big screen in a cinema.

Docudays UA film festival

Docudays UA film festival

Denys Ivanov, general director of the film company “Arthouse Traffic”, which is responsible for the distribution of the film “20 Days in Mariupol” in Ukrainian cinemas, shares that the company started systematically dealing with Ukrainian documentary films not so long ago. But it has already succeeded in this:

“Last year, we released 5 films. We tried to pay attention to each of them, did promotional tours, advertising, sincerely believed in each of them. But the film “20 days in Mariupol” was an absolute exception from the point of view of the audience’s attention. I believe that that it is a unique viewing experience, especially if you watch this film on the big screen. Much has been said about this film, but if we talk about whether the film “20 Days in Mariupol” is able to change the perception of cinematographers and audiences about the importance of documentary cinema at the box office, then it is definitely already is happening. We will continue to work with Ukrainian documentary cinema at the box office. But not because viewers go to the movies, but because of the importance of what is happening now with this genre.”

Is a war documentary a fixation on Russia’s war crimes? In anticipation of the competition announced by the State Film Agency, both professional documentarians and human rights defenders unanimously answer: of course not. Special authorized prosecutors’ offices or experts of international human rights organizations are engaged in recording war crimes.

Filming of the film Divya after the Russians blew up the Kakhovskaya HPP

Filming of the film “Divya” after the Russians blew up the Kakhovskaya HPP

Divia / Facebook

Yulia Kovalenko offers to understand the terminology, because the very name “documentary cinema” is misleading. Recording can be a recording, for example, from a video recorder that records everything that happens in front of the camera. Will it be interesting to watch in the cinema? Obviously not. Can the recordings of documentarians be used in court – maybe yes, but definitely not films.

“It is more fair to call a documentary film a non-game film (where the actor(s) do not play). And it will be interesting precisely when such a film vividly and talentedly presents a creative understanding of reality, a creative understanding of a problem/question/phenomenon/ a topic that is important to society and, most importantly, important to the director. Because, first of all, a feature film is not an author’s statement.” says Kovalenko.

The director of the film “Photo for Memory” is Olga Chernykh shared their opinion that documentary cinema has its own nature. It can be non-linear and speaks to the viewer on an emotional level.

Cinema, and especially documentary, has the power to tell about events, about people, creating a strong emotional connection with the viewer. In addition, modern documentary cinema is an incredible variety of forms and ways in which it is created. This is what helps to penetrate the souls and feelings of people in front of the screen.

About the artistic component and the author’s point of view he says Daria Bassel:

“Documentary cinema is an art form that primarily involves the author’s understanding of reality and artistic imagery. That is, it is not a document in the usual sense of the word, which implies objectivity and non-involvement in the preservation and transmission of information. In a figurative sense, a documentary film ( (like any other work of art) can become a “document of the era”, but it is more about the fact that the artist managed to capture the spirit of the time.

The direction of recording facts and testimonies about war crimes in Ukraine is also occupied by cinematographers. In particular, as mentioned Daria, many non-governmental organizations are engaged in this important work (for example, the War Archive, which is one of the side projects of the Docudays UA team or The Reckoning Project). Documents created as part of the work of such projects will then be used in courts. The approach to creating documents within the framework of such projects is completely different from the approach to creating a documentary film.

“We are already showing documentary (non-fiction) films all over the world, telling in the language of artistic images, about the war and its consequences. Documentary films, like any other artistic works, have an emotional impact on the viewer. When we can give the opportunity to people with other countries to emotionally connect to our reality, and experience the events of the war with us, then we can bring their experience closer to ours and continue to talk with a greater understanding of each other.”





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