Donbas Cinematic Review: Why Do We Need To Research Filmography About The East Of Ukraine?

Dovzhenko Centre has issued the second edition of Donbas Cinematic Review 2.0. This is an overview where researchers have analysed the films made in Donbas and about Donbas starting from early 20th century. Apart from books and publications with academic papers, the project authors also organised these film screenings throughout Ukraine. Lusya Zorya, ex project co-lead and Board Member of the Culture & Creativity Association shared with us this story of how they dealt with fundraising, why decided that it is important to research filmography about Donbas and why you have to literally seek out these Ukrainian films almost clandestinely. You also will be able to learn what new aspects the films made one hundred years ago can reveal.

The first overview edition published in 2015 by Dovzhenko Centre with a limited number of copies was a compilation of 6 articles about cinematography. According to the foreword by the compiler Stanislav Menzelevskiy, the second publication is meant to help to see Donbas and to become an intellectual trigger to stir up those cinematic, historical and cultural reflections. 160-page publication contains engulfing analysis by researchers of the image of this region in Ukrainian Soviet-era films, cinematic works by Dzhyha Vertova, Leonida Lukova, Serhiy Paradzhanov, Volodymyr Khotynenko and screen works by Borys Gorbatov. Moreover, there is an extensive filmography presented with the information on all non-documentary films of Donbass, starting from 1924 until 2013.

The second edition of this overview Donbas Cinematic Review 2.0. compliments and builds upon the first one. There is an additional section on documentaries, photography chronicles of Donetsk and Lukhansk oblasts. As a bonus, with every single copy of the limited edition of this book you will get a plaster miniature copy of the famous Artem monument by Ivan Kavaleridze. 

The was the state grant that made it possible for this initiative to be implemented. Lusya Zorya, the project co-lead and the-then grant manager at Dovzhenko Centre was looking at different options to get this project funded. The available funds were found at the State Fund for Fundamental Research of Ukraine.

"The peculiarity of this call was that the Fund was supporting predominantly scientific and research projects in Exact Sciences. This was the first ever call for proposals in humanities that was focused on researching the transboundary territories. In fact, this was our chance to do our research", – explains Lusya. – "It seems to me, that we were the youngest applicants for this state grant. The open call was not widely advertised and had quite strict technical requirements and limitations. For instance, projects could be implemented and offered only by the institutions authorised to carry out scientific research. This implies that an applicant had to be part of a university or another similar type of institution".

When our project was only at the inception phase, we were planning to do a research, publish an overview and compile the complete filmography. The key idea was to present the image of Donbas formed by those cinematic works dating from 1930's and till now and to show what transformations this image has undergone so far.

"We have worked not exclusively with cinematic researchers, but also with experts whose specialty is Donbas, – continues Lusya. – Each research team member had his/her own historic time period that was especially compelling and thought-provoking to them. It took us about 6 months to get the first edition of the overview ready. Afterwards we understood that we do not want the project to stop at that. What is more, our team was in general interested and enthusiastic about the possibility of awareness raising events, lectures and film screenings. Because there is no just talking about films without showing and watching them, is it? After the success of the first project undertaking, the Fund for Fundamental Research decided to allocate the necessary funding for us for yet one more year. This enabled us to continue the research and based on its results to compile the second edition on the Overview, already with the financial support from the Dovzhenko Centre".

Film screenings and lectures sponsored by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation allowed us to significantly widen our target audience.

"This is a bit like with managing a museum: you have to plan ahead for the display focusing on how exactly you will get over to the audience as wide as possible, even to a 3-year-olds, within the framework of the same space. Every cultural project has to have such a varied and versatile component. Some people prefer to read in the quite comfort of their home, while others consume information better in a visual or lecture format", – explains Zorya. 

This project enabled Dovzhenko Centre to implement the public programme in their own format of cinematic lectures – The Culturefilms. To outreach for the audiences formally not that active or literary inactive, when it comes to visiting such events, they have generated different activities: lectures, round table discussions and unusual film screenings. As an example, they would demonstrate silent films with modern soundtracks at the background, quite often with actually live performances. They would invite speakers to the project discussions who were involved to certain extend with the films the discussions were on. As part of Donbas Cinematic Review film screenings the organisers invited cameraman of the July Thunder Storms documentaries and the representative of Ukraine Miners Trade Union who shared with the audience his experience of participating in 1989-1991 strikes as well as talked about the state of modern mining industry. 

"When traveling throughout Ukraine with our lectures we saw how strikingly different people react to what they hear and how do they get involved into the discussions. Let's say, in Lviv we saw how that it was difficult for the audience when the event is not purely entertaining, but is more focused on the discussion of a difficult subject matter. Because discussion meant application of efforts in critical thinking. Such type of events always gather much smaller audiences. However, it is not about the numbers but rather the quality. You can just read a lecture or show a film and then the person will leave. But you can get this person involved, get him/her into the discussion. Especially impressive results will manifest when you mix different age groups in your audience, because they have radically different visions of literary everything", – Lusya notes. 

These screenings are meant to open for people the page of history they haven't even known to exist, and to promote and generate the habit of critical thinking.

"We wanted to dig deep to find the roots of societal archetypes and look at them from an alternative point of view, – explains Lusya. – And yes, to do just that, we had to analyse propaganda as well. If you take it out of the equation, then you get curator's censorship leaving us without the real full picture. Well, Dzhyga Vertov is also propaganda to a certain extent – it is about the creation of an image of an ideal worker. How would they make films in Soviet times? The wouldn't shoot anything without management approved script. You have to analyse even the propaganda films - they are extremely interesting!"

The project arranged screening of the July Thunder Storms film by Anatolii Karas and Victor Shkurin. This is a two-part film about first in a long time massive protest demonstrations in Soviet Ukraine. Those days the miners’ strikes in Donetsk were hundred thousand miners strong.

"De facto this is the only documentary proof of the Soviet production about the protest demonstrations of 1989-1991. When we showed this documentary in partnership with Docudays the year before the last, we started to get requests for similar screenings to be arranged in other parts of Ukraine. So these films were demonstrated in this or that format in Lviv, Lysychansk, Mariupol and Kyiv. The proper set programme was formed that could be used 'for export'", – stressed Lusya. 

One of the challenges faced by compilers and researchers was that many Ukrainian films of Soviet era are stored outside Ukraine. Part of them are in Russian Film Fund, and yet another is spread across European archives. 

"These are mainly films from 1920-1930's. We faced a problem: films by Lukov are nowhere to be found on film in Ukraine, almost all of them are kept in Gosfilmfond (State Film Fund). If before there was a practice of buying out films with state funding then lately, in the recent years, if I'm not mistaken, this is no longer so easy", – explains Lusya.

The compiler of both overviews Stas Menzelevskiy adds: "At the beginning of 1990's all films made at Ukrainian studios were sent for storage to the Film Fund in Moscow. And when it was decided to create the archive of Ukrainian films, it turned out that the films were already gone. There was a film-copying workshop where they produced the film for distribution for a couple of Soviet republics. Some films were stored at this workshop, around 1000 films or so. This was the basis for the film collection. There were times when we were buying films from Russia, but after the war, of course there is no even talking about it."

Because of the distribution policy of 1920's many Ukrainian films were screened in America and Europe. That is why at the moment those films are easier to find. Nevertheless, this is happening randomly due to the lack of a state funding programme for targeted film search. 

"Russian researchers travel around; sit in archives searching for their films. Sometimes through them, we manage to find Ukrainian samples. For example, one of the researchers we know, when in Berlin archive managed to find there a Ukrainian film previously believed to be lost for good. He told us about it, we contacted the archive and the film was returned to us. But without the state programme all this is happening randomly, not systematic at all," – says the compiler. 

Thus, this was one of the key ideas of the project – to mark all the known existent films to get the full-scale cinematic database on Donbas. This resulted in a publication with Ukrainian subjective focus.

The Donbas Cinematic Review 2.0. Publication won  the Best Book Design Award at the Book Arsenal Festival 2018.

You can order the book at Dovzhenko Centre website: 

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