Sunday, November 19, 2023

20 Days in Mariupol / 29 dniv u Mariupoli (in the presence of Vasilisa Stepanenko)

Mstyslav Chernov: 20 Days in Mariupol / 20 днів у Маріуполі (UA 2023). 

20 днів у Маріуполі
UA 2023.
Director: Mstyslav Chernov
94 min
Genre: documentary
Languages: English, Ukrainian, Russian, with English subtitles
    Pulitzer Prize 2023 for public service
    Sundance Film Festival 2023 World Cinema Audience Award - Documentary
    NPO IDFA Audience Award 2023 [NPO = Nederlandse Publieke Omroep = the Netherlands Public Broadcasting System], [IDFA = International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam]
    Ukrainian proposal for the Academy Awards 2024
    Hosted by Nataliya Teramae
    Interpreted by Oleksi Prehodko
    In the presence of Vasilisa Stepanenko and other Mariupol survivors.
    Kinopalatsi 1, Helsinki: Ukrainian Film Days (UFD), 19 Nov 2023

UFD 2023: " An Associated Press team of Ukrainian journalists trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol struggle to continue their work documenting atrocities of the Russian invasion. As the only international reporters who remain in the city, they capture what later become defining images of the war: dying children, mass graves, the bombing of a maternity hospital, and more. "

" The film offers a vivid, harrowing account of civilians caught in the siege, as well as a window into what it’s like to report from a conflict zone, and the impact of such journalism around the globe. "

" Awards and nominations:
    Award World Cinema Documentary at Sundance Film Festival 2023
    Mstyslav Chernov (film director), Evgeniy Maloletka (still photographer), and Vasilisa Stepanenko (field producer), received the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for courageous reporting from the besieged city of Mariupol that bore witness to the slaughter of civilians in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
    Ukraine’s submission for the best international feature category at the 2024 Oscars. "

" The film is presented and followed by the Q&A with Vasilisa Stepanenko, field producer: “I remember the eyes of the parents who were losing their children and voices of Mariupol residents, who asked to show this to the world. I hope that every person will see the film to find out the truth about what happened in Mariupol”. "

" Vasilisa Stepanenko is a video journalist from Kharkiv, Ukraine, whose work focuses on issues of human rights and social justice, especially related to the war in her country. Stepanenko has worked with Mstyslav Chernov and Evgeniy Maloletka since before the start of the full-scale russia’s invasion of Ukraine, when she realized that it would be crucial to provide accurate information from eastern Ukraine. Starting in Kharkiv – the hometown of both her and Chernov – the team realized that Mariupol would be the first key to the war. They arrived hours before the first rockets landed and were the only journalists working for an international news organization to stay in the city for more than two weeks, leaving just ahead of the Russian takeover of the city center. Since then, Stepanenko has reported from Lviv and Kharkiv as well. She has dedicated her work in Mariupol to the people there who lost their lives, families and homes in the war. " (UFD 2023)


IDFA 2023: " On the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a team of Ukrainian journalists enter the strategic eastern port city of Mariupol. During the subsequent siege and assault, as bombs fall, inhabitants flee, and access to electricity, food, water, and medicine are severed, the team — the only international journalists left — struggles to cover the war atrocities and to transmit their footage out. "

AA: There were moments of silence in the beginning and the end in standing ovation to the victims and survivors of Mariupol, the Hero City of Ukraine.

A first hand account of the first twenty days in the Siege of Mariupol. The film is divided into 20 chapters: Day 1, 24 Feb 2022 till Day 20, 15 March 2022. It is based on original news despatches and private footage by the Associated Press (AP) journalist Mstyslav Chernov and his team. We saw the film in the presence of the field producer Vasilisa Stepanenko who was today also celebrating her 24th birthday.

On screen was the English version (narration, credits and subtitles in English).

The approach is one of dignity. The narrator's voice remains calm, a decision of sound judgement.

The film is evidence of a vast number of war crimes. Russian air strikes target civilians, not even sparing maternity hospitals and air raid shelters for civilians. A severe humanitarian crisis is caused intentionally. Safe corridors are blocked. The Red Cross calls the crisis "apocalyptic". 90% of the city's residential buildings are destroyed by tank fire. A project of ethnic cleansing is systematic, proof of the crime of genocide. In disgrace, Russian Armed Forces sink to the level of baby killers.

Much of the movie is in low definition, handheld, shaky and trembling, growing into an epic documentation of devastation, towards the end covering the destroyed city in drone footage, never losing the human perspective of children's suffering, parents' infinite agony, doctors overwhelmed when painkillers run out, a lethally injured pregnant woman crying "please kill me", homeless citizens moving their belongings in wheelbarrows. We visit makeshift hospitals, shelters where the lights are out, rubble that used to be someone's home. Stores and banks are plundered and robbed. In war, the good get better and the bad get worse.

Worst of all is isolation when communications do not work. Russian disinformation claims that Ukrainians are bombing the city themselves. The film-makers struggle to get their images for the world to see. There is a meta level running through the movie: the original footage as evidence, and the international media disseminating that footage in news programmes.

We visit mass graves and grave markers with only numbers on them.

This is documentation in the heat of the moment, warfare against civilians seen at close range.

For reference, I'm thinking about For Sama by Waad al-Kateab, her first person video diary about the massacre of Aleppo by Bashar al-Assad with the brutal help of Vladimir Putin's air force.

Tonight's event was made special by the live testimony of the three survivors on stage. "It was hard to believe that this is really happening". "War entered our homes". "To see a baby dying with my own eyes". "We decided to stay and show this to the world". "There is in the movie but a fraction of what really happened". "One of the worst things was the information vacuum, filled by disinformation". "I was also moved to register in the frontline many fighters of my own age". "God is dead".

PS 22 Nov 2023. An excellent article on this Helsinki screening by Sami Sillanpää in Helsingin Sanomat.

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