Dok.cetera: DocuDays UA, festival-in-exile, in Krakow

22 June, 2022

Under the banner of festival-in-exile, Kyiv’s human rights documentary film festival, the 19th DocuDays UA presented its DOKU/UKRAINE National Competition films at the 62nd Krakow Film Festival. The festival, held in person in Krakow, Poland, from 29 May – to 5 June 2022 (and 3 – 12 online), took on the DocuDays UA selections after Russia’s full-scale invasion of its host country commenced at the end of February. Therefore, each film presented will maintain its international premiere status, having screened under the national (Ukraine) premiere placeholder at Krakow. The films were judged by an international jury consisting of Dutch filmmaker Daniel Abma, Film Comment Co-Deputy Editor and New York Film Festival programmer Devika Girish, and Ukrainian filmmaker/researcher Stanislav Bytiutsky.

The DocuDays UA National Competition is usually the first of the festival’s announced programmes. In 2022, the programme was announced one day before Russia’s bombs started flying into sovereign Ukrainian territory. Additionally, the latest Ukrainian documentaries that would have been presented to DocuDays UA industry representatives were invited to participate in the KFF Industry and CEDOC (co-production market for Central & Eastern Europe, as organised by the Władysław Ślesicki Foundation). All ticket sales for the presented films were donated in full to DocuDays UA.

The four films* presented as part of DOCU/UKRAINE primarily show the country before the latest aggression. As individual films, they each employ different cinematic approaches, focusing on very different aspects of the diverse nation. As a whole, this diversity comes into full view, depicting a country, culture, and society poignantly with humour, love, courage, and freedom.

Infinity According to Florian, a film by Oleksiy Radynski
Infinity According to Florian, a film by Oleksiy Radynski

Infinity According to Florian (dir. Oleksiy Radynski)

From renowned Ukrainian filmmaker Oleksiy Radynski, whose previous films have screened at IFFR, Oberhausen, and DOK Leipzig, Infinity According to Florian is a nuanced look at pre-war Ukraine and enduring creativity in the face of late-stage capitalist developments’ relentless stubbornness. The film’s central protagonist is the architect and color composer, the late Florian Yuriev. Although, perhaps his flying saucer-esque performance space has become a staple of the Ukrainian capital’s skyline. Until then, the Donald Trump-mentored Russian businessman Vagif Aliyev seeks to redevelop the area with what may or may not be a mall and the tallest building in Kyiv (of course, inspired by the aforementioned former US president). In following Florian, Radynski’s documentary is a visual juxtaposition; from Florian’s belief in the reclamation of nature and imperfection to his nemesis’ belief in the virtue of building higher and higher; from the sturdy personality of the Eastern block’s 20th century (and before) socialist architecture to the flimsy coldness of modern real estate, Infinity According to Florian is an essayistic tribute to two pillars (both human and architectural) of Modernism.

Note: At the start of the war, Vagif Aliyev was arrested and detained by the Security Service of Ukraine; however, his current whereabouts are unknown.

Mountains and Heaven in Between, a film by Dmytro Hreshko
Mountains and Heaven in Between, a film by Dmytro Hreshko

Mountains and Heaven in Between (dir. Dmytro Hreshko)

A Baltic 2 Balkan Documentary Network-supported doc, where I was introduced to the project in 2021 at Kyiv’s Molodist International Film Festival, Dmytro Hreshko’s under-saturated venture into a distant mountain village seems like a capsule of a forgotten era, albeit one from less than 12 months ago. Prior to the war, it was COVID-19 that was on the tips of everyone’s tongues. One of those rare occurrences that affected all, across geography, class, race, and age, the COVID-19 pandemic once was an inescapable reality. That is to say, to those who believed in it; those who took a concern for it. In following a collective protagonist in four rural paramedics at the height of the pandemic, as they travel from house to house, character to character, set against an ever-present folk music soundtrack, Mountains and Heaven in Between is an exercise in contrast between the traditional and modern, all while Hreshko’s patient camera observes changes in seasons, holidays, and life.

Plai. A Mountain Path, a film by Eva Dzhyshyashvili
Plai. A Mountain Path, a film by Eva Dzhyshyashvili

Plai. A Mountain Path (dir. Eva Dzhyshyashvili)

The DOCU/UKRAINE award winner at Krakow Film Festival, Plai. A Mountain Path, the feature-length debut from Eva Dzhyshyashvili, immerses viewers in the bucolic life of the Carpathian Mountainside, where the Malkovych family displays their day-to-day rhythms. Dzhyshyashvili’s intimate and curious camera exudes a sense of kindness. However, the topic of war is not far off-screen given its grand-fatherly protagonist Dmytro, one leg down after 2014’s Maidan Uprising. However, without ever forcing the subject across its 5-year filming, Plai. A Mountain Path instead seeks the ways war can appear and affect even those who do not play a direct role in it. As a result, the family’s children become the philosophers asking those questions that adults, affected by conflict or not, tend to have become too jaded to consider – “if there is a God, why did he or she create war? Or is it a human who did it?”

Pryvoz, a film by Eva Neymann
Pryvoz, a film by Eva Neymann

Pryvoz (dir. Eva Neymann)

Georges Bizet’s secular vs. spiritual opera The Pearl Fishers soundtracks this purely observational look at Odesa’s primary market and all its human and animal characters from prominent Ukrainian fiction filmmaker Eva Neymann (Song of Songs, 2016; At the River, 2007). The film takes viewers through the seasons as the market draws ripe summer fruits to when it gets pelted by the winter elements, all while this mythic place (mentioned across local literature and song for decades) maintains its allure and enigma. Pryvoz is a city within a city with politics, personalities, conflicts and compassion in equal measure that continues to operate today, even under the constant threat of destruction. As Director Neymann told me, “Now, during the war, the market continues working. I really hope that soon I’ll be able to go there again and make sure that life is fuller than we assume. As long as Pryvoz is open, there is still hope that life goes on in all its complexity”.

For those who are able, please consider supporting DocuDays UA DOCU/HELP campaign and the Babylon ’13 filmmakers collective. Donations go to aid filmmakers who are on the front lines of the war, covering equipment and other expenses.

*Also presented to industry and screened out-of-competition was Taras Tomenko’s Berlinale-premiered ‘Boney Piles’, which also took home the best documentary award at the 2022 GoEAST Film Festival.



"New to Bucharest by way of Amsterdam, Brooklyn, and a few others, Steve is the communications manager/industry editor for Modern Times Review documentary magazine. He was also senior editor for New York-based IndieWood/Hollywoodn’t. At Films in Frame, his documentary column features on the last Wednesday of the month.