Kyiv, February 2023
Dar'ya Averchenko, how did the war effect documentary film making? Are films still being produced?
Documentary films are still being produced in Ukraine and amid the tragedy, interest in our country is running high. Ukrainian producers are now quite experienced sourcing funding from foreign foundations. IDFF Docudays UA has its industry part: we organize and send delegations of Ukrainian filmmakers to film festivals and other international filmevents.
This means they meet producers, distributors and commissioning editors for TV channels such as ZDF, Arte, MDR or Al Jazeera, creating new possibilities of funding, co-production or other partnerships for Ukrainian filmmakers. So far this has been successful.
Do you have more success now than before the war?
I would say there was a period in our history, during the 2014 revolution of dignity in Kyiv, when there was a lot of interest in our country. At that time, documentary filmmaking was at its peak. However, we are currently seeing a resurgence of interest.
There are so many filmmakers who just can’t stay at home. They go to the frontiers, they make films about the volunteers; telling stories about ordinary people. The whole Ukraine is affected by the war and everybody has their own story to tell.
“Our aim is to collate evidence on what happened at the frontiers and the cities, as well as the experiences of those who fled the country”
Have the topics films cover also changed?
Yes, there is a clear focus on the war. To this end, our team has created the Ukraine War Archive, a database of video and audio materials that document the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Everyone can submit material that documents all aspects of life during war, including being evacuated, sheltering from bombs, civilian resistance, wartime destruction, violence and the criminality of the Russian army.
Our aim is to collate evidence on what happened at the frontiers and the cities, as well as the experiences of those who fled the country.
Have you held the film festival since the war started?
Usually, Docudays UA International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival takes place in the last week of March in Kyiv. We had planned the 19th edition for March 2022 with the slogan “Brand New World”. But we postponed it as everyone was rescuing their families and friends amid extreme shelling. At that time, it was simply impossible to organise anything.
“We organised the program in slots. In-between the films we left time, so that in the event of the emergency alarm, people could hide and then return”
In November, however, we organised a special edition for a weekend under the banner of “State of Emergency”, at Zhovten Cinema in Kyiv. We screened several films that had been scheduled for the main program of the 19th edition, alongside new wartime documentaries by Ukrainian filmmakers. It was smaller than usual and there were no international guests, jury nor a competition. Nonetheless, a lot of people came.
After this we held our annual “Traveling Docudays UA”, where we organized screenings almost all over Ukraine. We held on-site events in the Kharkiv region, in Odesa, Zaporizhzhia, and Dnipro and online events in the Kherson and Sumy regions. We don't know exactly where people were connecting from.
We tried to reach as many people as possible and people willingly joined the events. Unfortunately, we could not host any on-site events in the frontline cities this year. For the first time, audiences from abroad have also joined screenings of “Travelling Docudays UA”, particularly people from Germany, Israel, Norway, and Poland. In total, we have held 251 screenings and 82 events, on-site as well as online, for residents of 81 cities and towns.
How did you deal with practical issues such as power shortages?
In November we organised the program in slots. In-between the films we left time, so that in the event of the emergency alarm, people could hide and then return to the screening. There was a shelter in the cinema where the screenings took place.
“We should tell the world what is going on in Ukraine through documentary filmmaking. This kind of storytelling goes much deeper than media reports”
We are very active on our social networks and used our telegram channel to keep the attendees informed if something happens. The blackouts are really difficult, and the event needed constant electricity and WIFI connection. The festival went ahead with the satellite internet connection Starlink and generators.
What is planned for this year?
We should tell the world what is going on in Ukraine through documentary filmmaking. This kind of storytelling goes much deeper than media reports or journalists’ documentaries.
We are very active and our plan for this period is quite ambitious because we are planning to take a delegation of Ukrainian filmmakers to present their new documentaries to the international film festival Hot Docs in Canada to boost our exposure. We will also present our War Archive project on the conference at the CPH:DOX in Copenhagen. Next stop will be in Reykjavik on their international film festival.
We have scheduled the 20th edition of Docudays for 2-8 June, 2023 and we are planning to have open air screenings this time. As such, we don’t need to depend on the location of cinemas. We will need a screen, some seats and a generator as we also don’t want to take away electricity from the public. I hope we will finally be able to celebrate our victory at that event. Nobody knows, but we continue to hope.
The interview was conducted by Atifa Qazi