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Generation Maidan: A Year of Revolution & War
2015, 78m, action, documentary
From the first days of the Maidan protests a team of Ukrainian filmmakers called Babylon13, volunteered to capture history in the making. In daily sorties, they filmed the first hopeful days of the movement and later the bloody street battles on their DSLRs. But the revolution's victory was short lived. Together with director Andrew Tkach the Babylon crew travelled to Eastern Ukraine to show the terrible cost of Russia's invasion & support for the separatists. In the end, Generation Maidan was about making change not war. At home they've take on corrupt oligarchs and politicians.
Produced by: Andrew Tkach, Volodymyr Tykhyy, Denis Vorontsov
Cast: Yuriy Butusov, Pavel Yurov, Aleksandra Morozova, Andriy Yanchenko, Hanna Hopko, Ivan Lozowy
10 questions with Generation Maidan: A Year of Revolution & War director, Andrew Tkach at the half-way mark.
Saturday, July 30th, 2016
1First of all, thank you Andrew for making this important documentary and providing insights on people's lives during times of war. What was the initial seed that made you want to make this film? The film began when panicked news editors asked me to fly into Ukraine the day after the mass shooting of protestors. They knew I spoke the language and had extensive contacts there but in the months before the bloodbath, they had ignored my pitch to document the movement from the beginning. When they finally called during revolution's climax all the news crews were either booked or in lock down. That's when a cousin told me about Babylon'13. They are not journalists, but unpaid volunteers who formed a collective of television technicians dedicated to documenting the revolution in dangerous nightly sorties. I hired them to be my crew for western news organisations and when the crisis passed I holed up in the former Soviet filmmakers union, to look at the 50 hours they recorded on the revolution's front line. If the French Revolution had cameras on the barricades this is what the footage would have looked like . The next week I interviewed a cross section of people who stood out in Babylon's footage, with the barricades and emotions still smouldering.
2You and your crew were pretty much on the frontline during the revolution. Can you tell me a little bit more about how it was to spend times with all these people who passionately stood together for their country? Because the Babylon crews were not journalists, they didn't have to distance themselves from protestors on the front lines. They followed the same people through the revolution's many twists and turns. I joined up with them as the old regime crumbled and then in eastern Ukraine. I've always been fascinated how ordinary people do extraordinary things when history is unfolding before their eyes. Their willingness to risk everything for a chance to upend the negative reality suffocating them, surprised even them. From afar we only see the depersonalised news of a mass movement, bravely taking on a corrupt and oppressive regime. But up close it's individuals that have to leap into the unknown without a safety net. When they do, they discover they're not alone. That recognition changes the country instantly, creating an alternative reality to those in power, but it doesn't guarantee an easy victory. What was it like for individuals who took part in the peaceful protests that turned into violent street battles and finally war? How did people chose their own path and how did the whirlwind of history change them? That is what I wanted to capture in this film.
3What was the scariest or most dangerous moment making this film? Before I hooked up with Yuri Gruzinov , my cameraman for Part I - Revolution, Yuri was shot in the arm by the riot police. He had just been stitched up in Maidan's makeshift hospital when the first protestors killed were wheeled in. No other cameras were allowed there, but he grabbed his DSLR and captured the moment on film. The most dangerous moments I witnessed were in the separatist capital of Donetsk, the day ex president Yanukovych fled to Russia. Several hundred pro Ukrainian protestors were surrounded by thousands of pro Russian demonstrators. A thin line of police was the only thing preventing hundreds of thugs brandishing wooden clubs from smashing the young pro Maidan Ukrainians to bits. When we arrived with cameras they thought we were there to protect them. But all we could do was document the scene. The activists that didn't flee to Kiev were the ones that later ended up in the separatists makeshift basement prisons and many were tortured and some killed for their beliefs.
4The Ukrainian-Russian conflict, as it is called by Western media, is still an ongoing issue. How are lives of Ukrainian people affected today? The war continues to take casualties every day. Although it's no longer in the news, dozens of Ukrainian soldiers died last month in shelling attacks, and civilians in Eastern Ukraine have been killed by landmines while crossing between lines. No one knows how many separatists and Russian soldiers have been killed, because the later's presence is still officially unacknowledged. Civilians living in the separatists republics have to support predatory armed militias, while trying to survive in an economically dead zone. In most of Ukraine the war is a distant storm. Young people ask if the conflict will ever end, but no one pines for Putin's Russia. Too many of their friends have returned in coffins for them to forget about his destructive meddling in their country. But the real battle Ukrainian civil activists are waging now is against local corruption and the entrenched alliance of business oligarchs and the political elite. It's a work in progress, but everyone knows there is no way back.
5You've produced quite a palette of films, ranging from child labor, Ai Wei Wei, climate change, and now the Ukrainian war. What is the common thread between these films? How do determine if you want to make a doc about something? Giving voice to the voiceless may sound like a well worn out cliche, but that is what motivates me to make these films. As a documentary filmmaker you have the privilege of experiencing real drama lived by real people, without suffering the consequences they incur. The least you can do in return is to turn the character's experiences into a compelling film that will touch people and in the rare case contribute to some positive change. If the story interests me, it will interest others. It's a matter of finding a strong narrative voice and visual style to spin the yarn.
6This is also the first film you've directed. What made you want to get behind the director's chair and what were your thoughts on it after having been a producer for so long? I spent most of my career working in TV magazine and documentary shows for the broadcast networks, where there is a different definition of what producers and directors do. Directors are those who direct the final post production or studio assembly of the show. Producers are those who direct and organise the shooting in the field, so I don't see any difference between the work I did in the past and what I did in this film. The big difference is that it is my first full length documentary feature, and I chose to tell the story without any narration, so that the story can unfold like a natural narrative. Also I had no real funding for this film and did most of the shooting after completing free lance assignment for news organisations that sent me there. Finally I edited this story with the help of several friends, unconstrained by any broadcast formats, to a duration and pace determined only by the material itself.
7What drives you to make documentaries instead of narrative films? For me documentaries can be just as gripping as narrative films, when they successfully capture the drama of real characters living through real experiences. If they shed light on important issues as well, what could be better. I never felt the need to script from a completely blank page. Reality is compelling enough.
8I know you're not a politician, but what do you think is needed to resolve the Russian Ukrainian conflict? Russia has to withdraw it's forces from Ukrainian territory. An international peace keeping force has to guarantee security for free elections in eastern Ukraine, after all militias are disarmed. An international war crimes tribunal has to investigate and punish all human rights abuses that occurred during the conflict. Internal refugees have to be given help to rebuild their lives. Time to heal the psychic wounds.
9I imagine pro-Russian news in the Ukraine as well as Western reporting to be biased. Did you have any personal experiences or hear stories which were contrary to how the war was portrayed in the media? The biggest misconception about the conflict is that it is a civil war based on language or ethnicity, as it was in Yugoslavia or Rwanda. The Russian media pushes this line, because it justifies their intervention in the defence of Ukraine's supposedly oppressed Russian minority. The western media often parrots this line because it's a lazy explanation for an otherwise complex reality. In fact most of the volunteers fighting on the Ukrainian side are Russian speakers. Ukrainians are all bilingual, most of the press is in Russian, and no one identifies what side they are on based on language or ethnicity. It is a generational war between those who cling to the mythology of the old Soviet past and those that realise that it is a corpse better left buried. As one young filmmaker told me, it feels like a zombie has grabbed his ankles and is trying to pull him underground, without realising it's no longer alive.
10What's next? I'm currently mentoring and helping fund East African filmmakers working on important environmental subjects. It's part of the Environmental Reporting Programme of the Aga Khan University in Nairobi, Kenya. Our current and future projects can be seen on ww.givingnatureavoice. org
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time. The film is about the evolution of a couple's relationship, and was shot in three different countries over the course of a decade.
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