Organizers at the Copenhagen Intl. Documentary Film Festival (CPH:DOX), which is going ahead in-person for the first time in three years, are taking a stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine with a dedicated program of seven specially curated films.
Spirits may be high in the Danish capital at the prospect of finally having a live event after two editions that were pushed online due to the COVID-19 pandemic but, as the fest’s artistic director Niklas Engstrøm stressed, “All our thoughts go to Ukraine and the many refugees who are currently being forced to leave their homeland.”
As the event’s programmer, Mads Mikkelsen, explained to Variety, organizers had already put together a selection of films from or about Ukraine when they closed the program in late January. “But, of course, everything changed on February 24 when Russia invaded Ukraine. Up to the last minute, we added more films because we felt we could do something to help understand the situation and the recent history of Ukraine since 2014,” said Mikkelsen.
Late additions include “Maidan” (2014), Sergei Loznitsa’s powerful historical fresco of the events of Maidan Square in 2014, Alina Gorlova’s “This Rain Never Stops” (2019), about a family that leaves war-torn Syria only to end up in war-torn Ukraine, and “The Earth Is Blue as an Orange” (2020) by Iryna Tsilyk, an audience favorite from Sundance and Berlin.
The latter, which tells the story of a mother and her two daughters who rally around their shared passion for filmmaking as war rages around them, was first screened at the festival’s 2020 online edition, and was an obvious candidate for the special Ukraine selection, according to Mikkelsen.
“ ‘The Earth Is Blue as an Orange’ is definitely a film that adds to the understanding of the recent history of Ukraine,” he told Variety. “It is also a beautiful film, paradoxically, about a young mother and her two daughters who turn to filmmaking to relieve the stress of living in a war zone – it’s a beautiful testament to the creative spirit of people who find some sense of hope even in the darkest of times.”
A very last-minute addition to the Ukraine focus program was “Novorossiya” (literally “New Russia”) by Italian duo Enrico Parenti and Luca Gennari, described as a panoramic, fresco-like picture of Eastern Ukraine’s pro-Russians separatists.
“It’s a very up-to-date documentation of the mentality that paved the way for Putin’s ambitions to move into Ukraine. We meet a diverse cast of characters including some of the young kids in the region, and we see how nation-building takes place, how the narrative is a strong component of the sense of national identity, and how it is misused to create a sense of patriotism that is a condition for this kind of invasion.”
Among the films selected earlier on in the Ukraine focus were “A House Made of Splinters,” which recently took top honors at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, “The Treasures of Crimea” by Dutch filmmaker Oeke Hoogendijk, about a collection of historical artefacts from Ukraine stranded in a museum in Amsterdam, and “Outside” by Ukrainian director Olha Zhurba.
Best known for her short “Dad’s Sneakers” (2021), Zhurba is currently in Ukraine filming the conflict and will not be attending the film’s world premiere in Copenhagen. “Outside” tells the story of Roma, a feisty young orphan who became a mascot during the first pro-democracy revolution in Ukraine. Zhurba follows him over seven years with her camera and through telephone conversations.
“The complexity of this character echoes the complexity of modern Ukraine – the inner tensions, the longing for something different, the longing for stability and for an actual future,” says Mikkelsen, who recently watched the film again and said he saw it in a completely different light following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
On “A House Made of Splinters,” a documentary set in a children’s shelter in Eastern Ukraine, Mikkelsen said he was hit by the realization that the orphanage is located less than 100 kilometers from the Russian border. “I can only imagine how the situation there has gone from bad to worse, and it’s already bad. It’s heartbreaking, but again it’s all the more important that these kinds of films remind us of the destructive consequences of war, how it affects children and how the bitter seeds are somehow planted in these young minds,” he said.
On a more positive note, Mikkelsen said he was struck by the courage that emanates from all of the films in the selection. “These are films that are made in a war zone; they made these films to give the rest of us an understanding of what’s going on. It kind of makes me grateful,” he concluded.
CPH:DOX opens Wednesday and runs through April 3 in and around Copenhagen. Mini-festivals will also be taking place across cities in Denmark in collaboration with local partners. A selection of films will be made available for streaming in Denmark from April 1-10.