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Watch Ukrainian Films, Help Fund Emergency Support To Ukraine

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“As far as Ukrainians are concerned, the war has been going for eight years already,” The truth of award-winning Ukrainian director Sergey Loznitsa’s statement can be seen in his scathing satire “Donbass” as well as the other three films that will be presented at the upcoming Ukrainian Film Series.

The film series, which runs April 15-21, 2022, will be screened at the Smith Rafael Film Center.  (The Center also serves as the main venue for the annual Mill Valley Film Festival.)  The four critically acclaimed films which make up the series center on the 2014 separatist conflict in Ukraine’s Donbass region.  Each film will have just two screenings over the course of the series.

A portion of ticket sales from the film series will be donated to the Ukraine Crisis Fund.  Americares, a Charity Navigator four-star charity organization, administers this fund.  This charity organization has four decades of experience responding to emergencies which have resulted in large numbers of people being displaced.  For the Ukraine Crisis, Americares provides emergency medicine, medical supplies, and financial assistance to those affected.

The movies being screened in this series are as follows:

Natalya Vorozhbit’s “Bad Roads” adapts her play of the same title.  It’s a collection of four stories of varying lengths about tension-filled wartime encounters occurring on the roads of different parts of Ukraine’s Donbass region.  The stories are: a slightly drunk school principal comically draws the ire of soldiers at a military checkpoint when he misplaces his passport; three teenage girls wait for their soldier “boyfriends” at a bus stop even as night falls; a journalist held captive by an opposition soldier in an underground bunker attempts to humanize their interaction before it devolves into violence; and a young woman gets an unexpected response to her offer to compensate a farm couple for accidentally killing their hen.  The Ukrainian Film Academy cited Vorozhbit’s film as their reason for naming her Discovery of the Year. 

Loznitsa’s biting satire “Donbas” earned him a Best Director award at Cannes, yet the film hasn’t been released in America until now.  Its setting is the titular region of southeastern Ukraine during the mid-2010s battles between Ukrainian government forces and Putin-backed Russian separatists.  The narrative is a collection of thirteen stories (drawn from real-life accounts) intended to show various aspects of the area’s disintegration and decay.   The Bunuelian stories include: a Ukrainian man trying to retrieve his stolen car from Russian-controlled police headquarters gets pressured to sign the car over to the Russian separatists; a group of actors pretend to be horrified at fake atrocities to provide color for fake news reports of wartime violence; and a Ukrainian army volunteer gets publicly tormented by separatist sympathizers who parrot Russian propaganda that he’s a fascist.  

In Valentyn Vasyanovych’s post-PTSD drama “Reflection,” hospital surgeon Serhiy volunteers to fight for Ukraine against Russian separatists in Donbass.  His plans take an unwelcome turn when he gets captured and becomes a prisoner of war.  During his imprisonment, the surgeon witnesses many scenes of horrifying violence and is forced to use his medical skills to dispense mercy killings to badly tortured prisoners.  On his release, the surgeon tries to rebuild his relationship with his ex-wife and his pre-teen daughter.  Can the traumatic memories of his imprisonment truly be put behind him?  Pacific Film Archive patrons will recognize Vasyanovych’s name from the PFA’s screenings of his prior film “Atlantis.”

Director Iryna Tsilyk won a directing award at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival for her World Cinema Documentary “The Earth Is Blue As An Orange.”  Her movie follows the Trofymchuk family as they attempt to film their personal account of life in wartime Krasnohorivka, a town on the front line of the Donbass conflict.  The family does face unique filming problems such as interviews cut short by bomb attacks.  But the effort pays off with unique personal insights from various members of the Trofymchuk clan about their precarious existence.  Mother Anna feels guilt over her decision to stay and eventually help rebuild Ukraine versus fleeing for safety with her children.  Daughter Anastasiia feels living through the war has changed her from a kind person into someone irritable and evil.

Admittedly, some of these films are not for everyone.  The satire in Loznitsa’s “Donbass” reaches Bunuelian levels of acerbity, such as a scene involving a woman dumping a poop-filled bucket on a news reporter.  But then, the filmmakers are using their art in the best way possible to convey the contradictions of life in the war-torn segments of Ukraine. 

Broke-Ass is a pround media sponsor for this event 

The film series Runs April 15-21, 2022
Screened at the Smith Rafael Film Center

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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.

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