blue and yellow ukrainian flag waving above crowd of people
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Who will care about us? – A Love letter to Ukrainian cinema

7 mins read

We are all aware of what is happening in Ukraine, but filmmakers are also fighting against a brutally overwhelming war alongside its people who are trying to flee the country.

In this fragile position, not many people may be aware that Ukraine has its own ‘big scene’, especially in
terms of short films.

Mikhail Kaufman

Man with a Movie Camera is an experimental 1929 Soviet silent documentary film, directed by Dziga Vertov, filmed by his brother Mikhail Kaufman, and edited by his wife Yelizaveta Svilova.

Vertov’s feature is produced by the film studio VUFKU, presenting urban life in Moscow and the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Odesa during the late-1920s.

Soviet film Man with a Movie Camera
Man with a Movie Camera (1929). Image Credit: BFI

It has no actors in it. Although, Soviet citizens are shown at work and play, interacting with the machinery of modern life. They are the cameramen and the film editor of the title, they discover the modern Soviet Union and present it in the film.

Kira Muratova

Female director Kira Muratova is another figure in Ukrainian film history who has contributed immensely to Ukrainian cinema. In her film Three Stories, which premiered at the Berlinale International Film Festival in 1997, she showcases her bitter humour reflecting a violent, loveless, and morally empty society.

Her films were focused on ornamentalism and likened to her anti-realist potency. Her last film, Eternal Homecoming effectively shows the unfinished nature of cinema.

For these reasons, Muratova was also concerned by many film scholars not appropriate as
she used idiosyncratic film language.

Her film language did not comply with the norms of socialist realism at the time. Film scholar Isa Willinger has compared Muratova’s cinematographic form to the Soviet Avant-garde, especially to Eisenstein’s montage of attractions.

Muratova was banned from working as a director for several years because of this.

Kira Muratova
Kira Muratova. Image Credit: Alamy via BFI

Nariman Aliev

There are also new faces in the Ukrainian film industry who have recently done some impressive work and even spoken about their experience fleeing the current war.

Nariman Aliev’s film Homeward premiered at Cannes Film Festival in 2019 in the category “Un certain regard”.

The film revolves around a relationship between a father and a son from Crimean Tatar as the family transport the body of their deceased son and brother from Kyiv to bury him in Crimea.

The deeply moving story leaves nobody indifferent. It is personal, captivating, thought-provoking, overwhelming, and deeply moving.

It is a story that truly shows the synaesthesia of two different generations dealing with the death of their loved ones. All this occurs against the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Crimea.

Sergei Lozinista

One legend that must be mentioned is Ukrainian documentary filmmaker, Sergei Lozinista. Despite being well-known in the documentary film world, he has heavily influenced the overall meaning of Ukrainian cinema.

Loznitsa enrolled at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in 1991, in the fictional film direction department taught by Nana Jorjadze.

Loznitsa has been active since 2000 and has travelled all over the world showcasing his work at many
prestigious film festivals.

A scene from Homeward (2019)
(L-R) Remzi Bilyalo and Akhtem Seitablayev star as Father and son in Homeward (2019). Image Credit: O’Brother Distribution

On 28 February 2022, Loznitsa resigned from the European Film Academy due to the EFA’s weak stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Loznitsa said:

“For four days in a row now, the Russian army has been devastating Ukrainian cities and villages, killing Ukrainian citizens. Is it possible that you — humanists, human rights and dignity advocates, champions of freedom and democracy — are afraid to call a war a war, to condemn barbarity and voice your protest?”

The next day, the EFA issued a stronger statement calling for a boycott of Russian films. In
response, Loznitsa issued a statement condemning the boycott:

“Many friends and colleagues, Russian filmmakers, have taken a stand against this insane war. When today I hear these calls to ban Russian films, I think of these [filmmakers] who are good people. They are victims as we are of this aggression.”

crowd on protest against war on ukraine
Image Credit: Katie Godowski on

The war in Ukraine

On 18 March 2022, during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Academy of Cinema expelled Loznitsa for opposing the boycott of Russian films, stating:

“When Ukraine is struggling to defend its independence, the key concept in the rhetoric of every Ukrainian should be his national identity”.

Many Ukrainians are just trying to get by and continue their lives as best as they can. These are all our fellow filmmakers and artists and ordinary people who are looking for an answer and deserve to have their film culture protected at all costs.

Therefore, the “International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk” (ICFR) set up a special “Emergency Fund for Filmmakers” for film practitioners directly in danger due to the ongoing war in Ukraine. The coalition was set up in March and has helped a significant number of filmmakers.

This is according to Orwa Nyrabia, a Board member of the ICFR who said:

“We would like to be able to help more fellow film practitioners during this terrible war”.

Now support is slowing down as not all supporters are managing to meet the emergency as quickly as we’d hoped. People are slowly forgetting about the war and the invasions on Ukrainian cinema and its people.

What is important is that films from Ukraine survive and that current filmmakers and artists are maximally met in these difficult times.

The most important thing is to preserve their existence and the film heritage that is necessary for understanding the Ukrainian film past, present and future.

Featured Image Credit: Pexels Free Photos

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