Perspectives of Ukrainian Cinema
12 Jun 22–30 Jun 22
Information for subsequent runs of the film series
War broke out in Central Europe on 24 February 2022. The Russian invasion of Ukraine shocked the world, including Germany, to the core. Many people are gripped by feelings of solidarity, and by the desire to help. At the same time, it has suddenly become apparent that in Germany we know only little about Ukraine and its culture. There is so much to learn about Ukrainian self-perceptions, discourses, perspectives, people, and places in the country. And how better to contextualize the war reporting that so often arrives as images, than with moving images themselves?
From 12 to 30 June 2022, the Deutsche Kinemathek, working with cinemas in Berlin, Hamburg, and Leipzig is mounting a multi-faceted Ukrainian film series, complemented by introductions to the films, as well as discussions with Ukrainian filmmakers and professionals from the cultural sector. The series has been curated by Victoria Leshchenko and Yuliia Kovalenko, whose initiative sloïk film atelier provides a space for underrepresented voices and fosters them internationally.
Russian war rhetoric propagates that Ukraine is an artificial state, with no culture or history of its own. This film series proves the opposite. Since the inception of cinema, Ukraine has been steeped in a passion for that art form. Over more than a century, Ukrainian filmmakers have repeatedly and enthusiastically sought to develop and experiment with the language of moving images to rethink the history and present of their country and to dream of the future – even in the face of great adversity. Modern-day Ukrainian cinema is experiencing a real boom, with a new generation of directors following in the tradition of the country’s rich cinematic legacy, testimony to a vivid, independent film culture in Ukraine.
With a wide variety of films, the series provides not only a very specific map of recent Ukrainian cinematic art, but also of Ukrainian geography, history, and society. The spectrum of films in the series encompasses a comedy set in Ukraine’s west (‘My Thoughts are Silent’), a dramedy from the south (‘Volcano’), documentaries about family life in the country’s eastern region (‘The Earth is Blue as an Orange, Territory of Empty Windows’), a remarkable documentary experiment straight from the front line (‘War Note), a drama set in a village in the Donetsk region that became the epicenter of the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (‘Klondike’), a reconstruction of Ukraine’s recent past (‘Nail’), and a drama set in the near future, cast entirely with veterans and volunteers from the war in eastern Ukraine (‘Atlantis’).
The series will open with a classic of Ukrainian cinema directed by Oleksandr Dovzhenko (‘Arsenal’). Taken together, these stories weave a bright polyphony – a unique sound from the heart of Europe.
The films will be screened with English subtitles and the film talks will take place in English. Admittance to all screenings is free.
The series is mounted by the Deutsche Kinemathek with the support of the Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb). We thank our partners, the City Kino Wedding and Delphi Lux in Berlin, the Abaton Kino in Hamburg, and the Schaubühne Lindenfels in Leipzig.
USSR, 1929, directed by Oleksandr Dovzhenko, 93'
(sound by Guy Bartell and Bronnt Industries Kapital) (silent film/narrative/classic)
This epic film tells the story of the suppression by Central Council troops of the Bolshevik uprising in 1918 at the Arsenal factory in Kyiv. In Soviet mythology, the uprising at the Arsenal is nothing less than the key episode in the scenario of Bolshevik martyrdom in Ukraine. However, it should be remembered that the uprising was not so much a citizen rebellion of the Kyivans against the Central Council, as a protest against it by Russian workers and instigated by the Bolsheviks, who were competing for power in Ukraine.
‘Arsenal’ is considered one of the outstanding expressionist films in the Ukrainian cinema canon.
Oleksandr Dovzhenko, fascinated by the idea of national liberation and social revolution, placed the events of the uprising at the margins of the narrative, ultimately creating a flagship political film for the Ukrainian intelligentsia on both sides of the civil war. The film describes the chaos of war rather than pressing a clear political message.
The film was released in 1929. Almost a hundred years later, Ukraine is enmired in another war. Current affairs are not only related to the events of the early 20th century, but also to the way they were perceived and rethought by Ukrainian filmmakers. ‘Arsenal’ will be screened with music by Bronnt Industries Kapital.
UKR, 2019, directed by Valentyn Vasyanovych, 108'
Eastern Ukraine, in the near future. A desert unsuitable for human habitation. Sergiy, a former soldier suffering from PTSD, is having trouble adapting to his new reality: a life in pieces, a land in ruins. When the smelter where he works finally shuts down, he finds an unexpected way to cope by joining the volunteer Black Tulip mission dedicated to exhuming the war victims. By working alongside Katya, he realizes that a better future is possible. Will he learn to live without war and accept himself as he is?
This post-apocalyptic drama raises the issue of the shape of post-war Ukraine. What will the country look like a year after the end of war? Will it be blossoming? Will it be capable of embracing happiness? Or will the war remain ever-present even after it is over? In the restrained vision of the director, the catastrophe caused by the war affects first and foremost everyday life and human relations. In this new world, archaeology becomes important only as a skill needed to exhume corpses. All the parts in this film were played by soldiers, volunteers, and veterans of the war in eastern Ukraine.
Best Film in the Horizons section at the 76th Venice International Film Festival in 2019, best film and discovery of the year from the Ukrainian Film Critics Awards in 2020, Best film and Best cinematography at the Ukrainian National Film Awards in 2021.
UKR/TUR, 2022, directed by Maryna Er Gorbach, 100'
July 2014: expectant parents Irka and Tolik live in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine near the Russian border, disputed territory in the early days of the war in Donbas. The nervous anticipation of the birth of their first child is violently disrupted when the nearby downing of flight MH17 exacerbates the tension enveloping their village. The looming wreckage of the downed airliner, and an incoming stream of mourners, emphasize the surreal trauma of the moment.
While Tolik’s separatist friends expect him to join their efforts, Irka’s brother is enraged by suspicions that the couple has betrayed Ukraine. Irka refuses to evacuate even as the village is captured by armed forces, and she tries to make peace between her husband and her brother by asking them to repair their bombed house.
This film is a fresh and uncompromising feature from Maryna Er Gorbach – a passionate filmmaker with a keen eye for detail. The film describes a space where a woman will soon give birth. Her home is a village on the border to Russia - soon to be occupied by Russians - but she’s determined to stay no matter the consequences. It’s also the site of an enormous human catastrophe with the downing of the Malaysia Airlines passenger flight. And it is a universal story, a personal tragedy about a family separated by ideology, in which the people closest to one another turn out to be fierce enemies. The film reflects Ukraine nowadays in all its complexity. This is no longer a world of grey, it’s black and white, presenting its protagonists with a stark choice between surviving for a better future or dying for it.
Directing award in the 2022 Sundance World Dramatic competition, Panorama Audience Award at the Berlin International Film Festival 2022.
My Thoughts are Silent
UKR, 2019, directed by Antonio Lukich, 104'
Vadym is twenty-two. He’s a sound engineer and a downer. He’s going to Canada in three months. Forever. Before his departure, he's assigned to record the voice of a very rare bird, which dwells only in the mountains of Ukraine’s Transcarpathian region.
This comedy follows a son and his mother on a trip to the west of Ukraine. The journey is a chance to not only re-define their relationships, but also for silent self-reflection – who are they and what does home mean? Those issues of identity, which are crucial to Ukrainian cinema in general, here acquire the paradigmatic form of a leitmotif, providing space for humor and a fresh view on modern Ukraine.
Ukrainian Film Critics Award 2019, discovery of the year and the best film of 2020 at the Ukrainian National Film Awards.
UKR, 2016, directed by Philipp Sotnychenko, 32‘
Valentyna works in Lichtenstein. She lived in Kyiv until the age of 13. In 1996, during economic hard times in Ukraine, Valentyna emigrated to Switzerland with her mother and stepfather. Twenty years later, VHS tapes suddenly surface that revitalize their Ukrainian past – which seems incredibly distant but at the same time incredibly close.
The film reconstructs and plays with the aesthetics of VHS. With its scratches and roughness, it becomes symbolic of the entire era of 90’s Ukraine. At the same time, the director rethinks the deep economic and social transformation that was triggered by the country’s post-communism independence after 1991. This unique experience of feeling free, but insecure, was captured by many film amateurs with their home VHS cameras, which became artifacts of the new life of freedom.
Territory of Empty Windows
UKR, 2020, directed by Zoya Laktionova, 10‘
(short / documentary)
War and abandoned ecology are two themes that permeate the everyday life of Mariupol residents. World War II and the local Azovstal steel plant were the reason Zoya’s family moved to Mariupol. And the war with Russia, along with environmental consequences of the plant’s operation, have played a dramatic role in her life.
Focused on her family, the director provides a personal approach to the city of Mariupol, which became one of the key targets of the full-scale Russian invasion in 2022. The city was badly damaged by shelling, and the Azovstal steel plant, which played an important role in Zoya’s family life, became one of the biggest bomb shelters with thousands of citizens and Ukrainian soldiers blocked in by Russian troops. This short documentary describes Mariupol through the tenderness of a native’s vision, and the pain of loss.
The Earth is Blue as an Orange
UKR/LT, 2020, directed by Iryna Tsilyk, 74'
Single mother Anna and her four children live in the front-line war zone of Donbas, Ukraine. While the outside world is all bombings and chaos, the family manages to keep their home a safe haven, full of life and full of light. Every member of the family has a passion for cinema, motivating them to shoot a film inspired by their own life during a time of war. The creative process raises the question of what kind of power the magical world of cinema can have in times of disaster. How to picture war through fiction? For Anna and the children, transforming trauma into a work of art is the ultimate way to stay human.
Even amidst war, when it is difficult to say ‘life is beautiful!’ – as the protagonist of the eponymous Roberto Benigni film did – it is still possible to shape everyday life into a web of goals, and events full of love, zeal, and vitality. Day by day, the protagonist of this documentary withstands the difficulties of life in the front-line zone in eastern Ukraine. And step by step, she teaches her kids to breathe to their fullest despite the circumstances, and to respect their roots. Cinema has become a very effective tool in that process.
Directing Award in the World Cinema Documentary category at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, screened in the Generation 14plus section at the 2020 Berlinale, Best documentary at the Ukrainian National Film Awards in 2020 and the Ukrainian Film Critics Awards in 2021.
UKR/GER, 2018, directed by Roman Bondarchuk, 106'
A series of odd coincidences has left Lukas, an interpreter for an OSCE military checkpoint inspection tour, stranded near a small southern Ukrainian steppe town. With nowhere to turn, this city boy finds shelter in the home of a local named Vova. With Vova as his guide, Lukas is confronted by a universe beyond his imagination, one in which life seems utterly detached from any identifiable structure. Fascinated by his host and his host’s daughter Marushka, with whom he is rapidly falling in love, Lukas’s contempt for provincial life slowly melts away and sets him on a quest for a happiness he had never known could exist.
Gliding between the poetry of the steppe landscapes, and the absurdity of the characters, between the timelessness of life in a small city and a keen topicality due to the ongoing military conflict, this film becomes a story about a fatal trip to southern Ukraine – a region that is literally captivating. First as drama, then as comedy – first as a story about violence, then as a love story.
Best cinematography at the 2020 Ukrainian National Film Awards in 2020.
UKR, 2020, directed by Roman Liubiy, 72‘
Personal videos from the phones, camcorders, cameras, and GoPros of Ukrainian soldiers are woven into a surreal journey to the front line of the war with Russia. The film shows a bizarre world whose laws are quite different from what we are used to. The behavior is different, the relationships unfold differently, and the humor takes on different notes. The heroes wake up and fall asleep, rejoice and cry, always sensing that the recording may end at any moment.
This film brings you directly to the front line in eastern Ukraine. Consisting of videos made by soldiers and volunteers, it also raises the question of how war can be filmed and seen. How to relate the traumatic experience of war on film? How to describe war without fictionalizing it? Neither too poetic, nor overly dramatized, ‘War Note’ describes an everyday life of risk and routine.
Partners and funding
Partners and funding