“We must speak loudly through the cinema”

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Ukrainian filmmakers are here walking sticks and, in the words of poet Dylan Thomas, they won’t get soft. While some are here to promote the screening of films here in Cannes, many are here to drum up support for their country and ensure their voices are not forgotten as media headlines about the Russian invasion begin to decrease.

For many, it’s a strange paradox to wander the sun-drenched shores of Cannes in a vibrant and vibrant film festival, a festival where the only fighter jets are those kicking off Tom Cruise. Top Gun: Maverick as their home country continues to be ravaged by war.

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“It’s very strange to be here”, says Bosonfilm’s Aleksandra Kostina, producer of the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs Pamfir, which premiered last night. Speaking to Deadline in the International Village, she watches a group of delegates walk barefoot on the beach before saying: “It’s hard to understand how life goes on in the rest of the world when our world has completely changed and doesn’t will never be the same again. . It’s very surreal.

Its director, Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk feels the same.

“It’s amazing to be here and see my feature film play in the festival but it’s not what belongs to my reality,” he said a few hours before the premiere of Pamfira drama about a man dealing with corruption in a small western town Ukraine. “My reality is my country and it is in the middle of an atrocious war.”

He says he slept well every night he returned to the festival. “You know why?” he asks. “Because I don’t hear fighter jets and air raids. It is safe here in Cannes. When my alarm on my phone goes off, it’s not the alarm we get on our phones in Ukraine warning citizens of an air raid.

Maksym Nakonechnyi says being here is like being in a “parallel universe”. The director’s film Butterfly vision, about a young female soldier who returns home after being detained for months to find she is pregnant after being raped by her guard, stars in Un Certain Regard next week. He shows me the tattoos on his fingers with the Ukrainian coat of arms and the Cyrillic letters spelling “freedom” and “will” on each hand.

But what becomes clear soon after meeting these filmmakers is that they are continuing the good fight and they want everyone here in Cannes to know it.

.  - Credit: Cannes

. – Credit: Cannes

walking sticks

Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk is particularly dismayed by the statements of Kirill Serebrennikov during the press conference for his candidate for the Palme d’Or Tchaikovsky’s wifewhere the Russian dissident claimed that Russian civilians are also victims whose lives were affected by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

“His words will be used very well in Russian propaganda,” he says. “If you invite someone [to a festival] even if they are dissidents, they are an instrument of Russian propaganda, even if he is an intelligent and talented genius. Russian citizens will defend their own citizens. And for him, making the aggressor a victim is a huge lie.

Nakonechnyi is clear that he thinks the film’s inclusion is totally tone-deaf, noting that the Russian composer’s family is of Ukrainian descent. “I would ask the festival, is it really appropriate to show a film about a composer whose family was born in the territory of modern Ukraine, in a city that has now been destroyed by the Russian army? Is it appropriate enough to show such a film without mentioning it or without being aware of this context? The answer is no.”

He admits that there is a good intention in supporting dissidents and people who fight against the regime “but when they say that it is the Russians who need help and not the Ukrainians, whose women are raped by Russian soldiers and whose children are tortured, it makes I wonder why someone who is considered anti-regime would deliver useful messages for the regime? »

Polish-born director Agnieszka Holland, who is also president of the European Film Academy, also condemned the Cannes Film Festival for its inclusion of the Roman Abramovich-funded project, telling delegates during a panel discussion at the Cannes industry: “If it were up to me, I wouldn’t include Russian films in the official festival program – even though Kirill Serebrennikov is such a talented artist.

She added that her “bad feelings” were confirmed by Serebrennikov’s “swear words”: “He used [the film festival’s press conference] praising a Russian oligarch and comparing the tragedy of Russian soldiers to that of Ukrainian defenders. I wouldn’t give him such a chance right now.

Kostina first fled Kyiv to a village in Donbass with her husband and 7-year-old daughter, choosing to volunteer at a hospital for premature babies that was bombarded by Russian missiles. “These babies had nothing – no towels, bedding, pillows, nothing,” she said. “We did everything we could to help them because they have such complicated situations and special needs for medication and such.”

The producer is currently staying at Holland’s home in France with her family after her Pamfir co-producer Klaudia Smieja helped make the connection. She uses her time in Cannes to actively try to find financial support and opportunities for Ukraine from the European sector. Kostina says that because public funding for Ukrainian filmmakers has dried up since February 24, it means the country’s filmmakers have little hope of continuing their work unless other European funding bodies n introduce incentives to Ukraine. She is meeting with the European commissioner to see what can be done to protect the Ukrainian filmmaker’s efforts in the future.

“I don’t know what to do if we don’t have the capacity to work,” she says. “It is understandable that our government is not supporting us at this time because of course we have to rebuild the hospitals, we have to take care of those who need care and we have to rebuild the country. So on the one hand, now is not the time to fund culture, but on the other hand, if we are not rebuilding our culture, we are not rebuilding our country because the two are so intertwined and intertwined.

She adds: “We know how to make productions, we know how to develop our projects so that the world is interested in them, but without the support of local funds, we cannot move forward. We need opportunities to access European funds, if only for development money, because without it there is no hope for Ukrainian filmmakers today. We don’t ask for handouts – we want to work.

Nakonechnyi agrees that being an independent filmmaker in the circumstances of war without access to funding is impossible.

“I don’t want to demand anything, but we are here because we are victims, and we must remind international society of the principles they claim to have and ask them to follow the international laws that have been made.”

.  - Credit: Cannes

. – Credit: Cannes

walking sticks

The director points out that this war is not the one that started on February 24 but rather the one that Ukraine has faced since Russia invaded Crimea in 2014. This was during the editing of the documentary Invisible Battalionwho documented Ukrainian female soldiers, when he found his inspiration for Butterfly vision.

“The experiences of the female soldier impressed me a lot,” he says. “Their perspective, their approach to war and what happens to their role in the war was so impressive.”

A female soldier in the documentary spoke of a deal she made with her fellow soldiers: if she was ever taken hostage by Russian soldiers, she wanted her fellow soldiers to kill her if they had the chance. .

“It impressed me so much that I thought of what could be scarier than a female soldier in captivity and that’s how the idea for the film was born,” he says. It was a tricky shoot that was marred by Covid and the start of the invasion in February. The locations had to be changed when Russian troops began to gather at the border.

While most Cannes Film Festival delegates will return home and to their families, exhausted after a week of film-watching and negotiating, for these Ukrainians the future is not so certain. Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk and Nakonechnyo will continue to document soldiers during the war, admitting that cinema is now their best weapon.

“Now we need to speak loudly about it through our culture, our literature, our cinema – on all possible platforms because if we don’t speak loudly enough, it will be a chance for our enemies to kill us once again,” says Sukholytkyy -Sobchuk.

Nakonechnyi now knows that he and his people have changed forever and that the scars of war will be felt for generations. “Once the shooting is over, it doesn’t mean the war is over,” he said. “It lasts a long time and stays with a person forever and they have to learn to live with it. War influences art, culture – all our spheres.

For Kostina, she urges the international film community not to forget Ukraine and the film industry. She fears that attention will diminish and that she and her compatriots will be forgotten.

“It’s a tragedy that happens every day,” she said. “It feels like a long day and it’s a nightmare. We’re just waiting for the moment when we can wake up from this horror.

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