Some of Ukraine’s most talented filmmakers are now on the frontlines of the war, using their cameras (and sometimes guns as well) to fight the Russian invasion.
Oleh Sentsov, director of 2021 Venice Film Festival entry Rhino, posted a photo of himself from Donbas on Facebook this week, posing in camouflage with his Rhino star Serhii Filimonov under the caption “Rhinos are at war.”
Sentsov and Filimonov were among many in the Ukraine film industry that enlisted after Russia’s invasion of their country on Feb. 24. Sentsov was scheduled to travel to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland next week to talk about his experiences, but will instead stay in the trenches and give his speech via Zoom.
Serhiy Lysenko, director of 2019 documentary Brothers in Arms, also enlisted after the Russian invasion, but is now shooting footage for the Ukraine military.
“The military is not allowing journalists to embed with them, because of the danger they will reveal their location or movements and because there is evidence the Russians have been targeting journalists in the war,” says Denis Ivanov, one of the Ukraine producers participating in Cannes’ Producers Network on Saturday.
Other Ukraine filmmakers, including director Valentyn Vasyanovych (Reflection, Atlantis), producer/director Olga Beshmelnitsyna (Anna, Ivan’s Land), and DOP Serhiy Myhalchuk (The Guide, Under Electric Clouds), are working to document the events on the ground, recording the history of the war in real time. Babylon’ 13, an independent film collective formed at the beginning of the Ukraine uprising in 2013 that produced the 2015 documentary series Winter That Changed Us, reformed following the Russian invasion.
“We have mobilized again and returned to the active process of filming social events in Ukraine,” Babylon’ 13 co-founder Igor Savychenko told The Hollywood Reporter via WhatsApp from Kyiv. The members of the group, many of whom work anonymously, shoot footage in the war zone and provide it free of charge to news channels outside the country.
Some of the work is harrowing — Beshmelnitsyna’s short film The Occupant, which she posted on YouTube, is a found footage film compiled from the videos found on the cell phone of a Russian soldier who filmed as he advanced through the country. By contrast, documentary director Alina Gorlova is currently shooting a feature-length project on Ukraine farmers working to clear their fields of Russian mines as they try to plant the next harvest.
“All these stories, the dramatic and the ordinary, are important, and they are all part of our fight to win this war,” says Ivanov. “It is important that the world hears our story, not the story of Russia, the country that is trying to destroy us.”