The rise of Ukrainian documentary films during recent years is often connected to the Maidan Revolution (201–2014). The search of directors for topics and heroes for their films coincided with several years of governmental financing of cinema, when everybody got used to the idea that they can find money to make films. That lead to a new start for the Ukrainian film industry, after 25 years of independence; new names and films appeared and were they financed either by the state or independently.
Maidan by Sergiy Loznitsa, All Things Ablaze (Vse palae) by Oleksandr Techynsky, Oleksiy Solodunov and Dmytro Stoykov, Winter on Fire (Zima u vogni) by Evgeny Afineevsky – and recently Varta 1, Lviv, Ukraine by Yurii Hrytsyna and Captives (Brantsi) by Volodymyr Tykhyi are films that, in different ways, capture the revolution and its consequences.
Varta 1, Lviv, Ukraine by young Ukrainian filmmaker Yuriy Hrytsyna (who now lives and works in Berlin) was awarded by the FIPRESCI jury at the Odessa International Film Festival as best full-length film in the National Competition; it stands out as an independent view on the Maidan events.
Varta 1 combines the frames of a suburban Lviv shot on a VHS-camera a year after the revolution, with the audio recordings of real conversations of Lviv’s Maidan activists held during the last days of dramatic events in Kyiv. It was the director’s decision to disconnect the audio and video footage in an obvious way. The video should illustrate the inconstancy of our memory and perception – after all, no one is used to Lviv shown in Hrytsyna’s film: most Ukrainians living outside this city think of it as of a heritage of the Austrian empire, not as some Soviet wreck. The director ignores the fancy tourist attractions of his hometown and searches for distant neighborhoods that capture the latest history of both Lviv and Ukraine.
As for soundtrack: in a somewhat absurd way it shows the non-necessity for the video. Hrytsyna himself admits that Varta 1 could be done as a radio play, but this genre is not in demand in Ukraine, so the film form was preferable.
Hrytsyna recorded and listened to 70 hours of activists’ conversations during the last days of Maidan. He managed to edit it into an hour-long set of conversations, which show all the frustration, wrongly steered determination and anger of tired activists who were patrolling the streets of Lviv when the police refused to protect its citizens. Three years after Maidan these conversations ended; and they can be simply put in the mouths of today’s Ukrainians. Just like three years ago, people ask themselves: “What should we do to make our revolution effective?”, “Should we trust our government or should we do everything ourselves?” etc.
Hrytsyna refrains from giving answers and from asking direct questions, but the way he chose the dialogues from a 70-hour recording and edited them shows his understanding of the topic.
His main focus though, as he says, is to make a film without any focus at all, to try to capture reality as it is – without giving an authorial interpretation. May be this was not the way Varta 1 is made, but the intention is interesting, especially when Ukrainian film-makers are struggling with attempts to use their cinema as propaganda.
The possibility of capturing reality may be the question of ongoing (and maybe annoying) discussions about documentary cinema, but in Ukraine’s context such intellectual takes on cinema are very important, as they prove that high-brow cinema can speak about something that is alive and that still hurts – an insight that many Ukrainian cinema-goers are only going to ingest.
Edited by Birgit Beumers
© FIPRESCI 2016