Ukrainian filmmakers and producers discussed the act of resisting war through images during an online talk Thursday at international documentary film festival Visions du Réel.
The panel was made up of producer Illia Gladshtein and director Nadia Parfan, whose film “Heat Singers” screened at the festival in 2019, Maksim Nakonechnyi, whose debut film “Butterfly Vision” will be in the Un Certain Regard section in Cannes next month, and photographer and director Artem Iurchenko (“Cursed Days,” 2018).
Nakonechnyi has been shooting in Ukraine since the first days of the war and Parfan returned from an artist’s residence in Egypt in the wake of the Russian invasion to document what was happening in her country. Iurchenko, who is based in Paris, has been traveling across Europe in his car since the start of the war, transporting refugees, equipment, medical and humanitarian aid to and from Ukraine. A monumental print of his photograph of a Ukrainian child refugee was unfurled on the main square of Lviv by French artist JR in mid-March in a tribute to the children affected by war.
Much of the online debate centered on what panel members describe as Russia’s post-colonial narrative.
“This is a war of censors, a very illustrative post-truth war where the enemy’s side has its own truth which it has been making up for a long time,” said Nakonechnyi. “It’s not just a war of weapons but of narratives and ideas. That’s why people who create censors are the top enemies of Russia.”
Asked whether images were the “tools of war” as expressed by U.S. cinematographer Kirsten Johnson during a masterclass at the festival earlier in the day, Nakonechnyi answered: “They are one of the main tools – images and words, of course. It’s not the images themselves but the meaning that is given to those images and how they are presented. Images and weapons don’t kill, you need a human to start the killing. But yes, images are a great part of war, they always were, and that’s more than ever the case.”
According to Gladshtein, the fight is against a “colonization that seems normal in the eyes of people in Western Europe.” He called on Western audiences to wake up to what he called “the filter in your eyes” which he said was shaped by the Russian narrative about the former Soviet territory.
“I have done some research and collected a set of films produced for internal use in Russia, where Ukrainians are depicted as bad, stupid, greedy, traitors and Nazis. This is part of the whole universe of imagery produced by the Russian media including festival films that were widely distributed,” he said. “That’s why the Ukrainian film industry is demanding a boycott of Russian films. Not because we are offended and want Russian voices to be silenced, but because it is a means of war that didn’t start on the 24th of February but has been going on for years.”
Parfan echoed these thoughts. “This is not the first Russian colonial war, there is a long history of Russian aggression,” she said, citing the Chechen conflict. “The war in Ukraine started in 2014, but the EU community, North American governments and cultural institutions failed to recognize it,” she went on, adding that the problem was that Ukraine was not recognized as a sovereign nation by the international community but widely considered to be a post-Soviet satellite.
She expressed regret that Russian filmmakers who “had been benefiting from this colonial position for years, receiving slots at A-class festivals,” had not used their voice to highlight the situation.
“It may seem radical seen from Europe but it’s essential: I am just trying to explain the power dynamic that’s been there for years. That’s why now is the time to make a temporary moratorium and reconsider the role of Russian culture in this war,” said Parvan, adding that she was grateful to Visions du Réel for its careful selection over the years. “You are the reason I’m still doing this.”
The 53rd edition of Visions du Réel, which wraps in Nyon on April 17, included both Russian and Ukrainian films in and out of competition.