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Day and night in Ukraine: two brief discoveries

Maskirovka / Leninopad
Two of the most distinctive and notable premieres in Rotterdam concerned Ukraine. One is played in very different environments, both pastoral, neutral and urban, while the other is conducted urban.


Size is not everything. As this is being written, Ukrainian super-featherweight boxer Vasil Lomaschenko, with all his 60 kilos and 166 cm, is considered one of the world's two or three largest active boxers. As in boxing, so also in the film: Like Lomashenko, short films – at their best – strike both fast and hard, slam far beyond what weight should indicate, and are often more rewarding and satisfying than films of conventional length. This is especially true of experimental films, but also non-fiction.

An overview of European documentaries for the last couple of years should include outstanding examples such as Gabriel Abrantes' A Brief History of Princess X (2016, 7 minutes), Arthur Summereders The French Road: Detroit MI (2015, 7 minutes), Mehdi Ahoudig and Anna Salzbergs We'll go to Neuilly, Inshallah (2015, 19 minutes), Lawrence Abu Hamdans Rubber Coated Steel (2017, 21 minutes), Aline Magrez ' No'i (2016, 21 minutes), Isabel Pagliais Isabella Mora (2015, 22 minutes) and Igor Bezinović ' Veruda: A Film About Bojan (2015, 34 minutes) – to name just a handful. If it does not, the overview appears as one-sided.

The two films present Ukraine in original, informative and very personal ways.

The ability of short documentaries to dazzle and delight was demonstrated in plenty at the 47th International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), which was staged from January 24 to February 4 in the vibrant and multicultural Dutch mega port city. As one of the venerable (but still biting) fights in film festival circles – with around 300 visitors annually to the shows, exhibitions and side shows – the IFFR is in fact five or six different events at one time, and some of them are just solvable associated with film as it is traditionally perceived.

This can be both a strength and a weakness – when it comes to working with feature length films, Rotterdam is struggling to compete with Amsterdam's IDFA (for longer documentaries) and Berlin (for fiction films). But in certain areas, IFFR is better. The short film programs are always comprehensive, and they are well curated: This year, 22 titles competed for 3 equally prestigious Tiger awards – out of a total of 264 short or medium length films, including 80 world premieres.

Ukraine. In a lucky coincidence, two of the most peculiar and remarkable of these premieres touched Lomashenko's homeland – where a "forgotten" war with Russia continues to take and destroy lives every single week, even though it seems to have disappeared from the global journalistic radar . The two films present Ukraine in original, informative and very personal ways, something conventionally objective, TV-oriented reportage documentaries are not so easy to make – and they are made by artists who have previously been best known as still photographers.

Tobias Greens Maskirovka and Anna Jermolaewas Leninopath couldn't be more different, neither in form nor content. Undeservedly overlooked by the Tiger jury is Maskirovka provocative, brave and shocking – and for this writer, the film deserved far more than the three actual award winners. It simply contains nine minutes of fast-changing images – the movie has been described by more than one source as an "animation" – and unfolds in complete silence, with no opening or closing text. The film is ambitious and uncompromising in its clear intention – to throw us into a young, hedonistic Kiev environment, against a backdrop of political turmoil. The film's explosion of images and energy in the short time it lasts is part of Maskirovkas appeal and charm.

"Short" films, usually made with little or no regard for commercial interests, have the great advantage over their longer siblings that they are just as leisurely or short as they need to be; if an artist wants to express themselves through a 3-second gif image or a 45-minute "full length", the format allows her to do just that. The budgets are usually modest, sometimes under low-budget, but recording and editing can be done quickly and at no great cost because a turnaround can be done in no time – while full-time documentaries often get stuck in complex, endless financing negotiations and post-production complications.

As a thorough anthropological-ethnographic work documents Leninopath how many different opinions there are in Ukraine about Lenin and what he represents.

Short films are also a unique space where different art forms can meet, by giving established names in other disciplines the opportunity to take on new challenges and gain a wider field of impact. One of the most celebrated visual artists in today's Austria, Anna Jermolaewa, seems to capture new audiences with Leninopath, which is viewer-friendly enough to secure significant attention at festivals in the coming months.

A first-person travel essay. Jermolaewa was born in what is now St. Petersburg in 1970, when the city still bore Lenin's name. The dissident-minded Anna fled the country at the age of 18, via Poland to Austria, where she was installed in a refugee camp in Traiskirchen, south of Vienna. She has lived in the city since 1989. Leninopath is a first-person travel essay, unforgivably messy and even slightly intentional amateurish at times – although the photographer's gifted eye for composition is obvious at other times. Jermolaeva's ingenious approach is immediately captivating: She travels around the country in search of empty pedestals, where there were statues of Lenin recently, while conversing with anyone who might be nearby.

She glides from place to place and quickly collects an overview of empty plinths, broken pillars and "amputated" remains of statues. Typically, locals have vague, or none, thoughts on who was responsible – "they arrived at two o'clock at night" is a typical comment – although some point to representatives of reactionary political organizations such as Svoboda ("freedom") – party.

Jermolaewa does not go into the background history during the 22 minutes, but the "Leninopad" ("Leninopad") – the phenomenon is very thoroughly treated elsewhere. In 1991, there were over 5000 statues of statues in the newly independent Ukraine. After the maid demonstrations in 2013, and the subsequent replacement of the government, the number of statues has steadily declined. This process accelerated after a controversial ban proposal was made into official law and signed by President Poroshenko in May 2015.

Jermolaewa – who handles camera, editing and audio work himself – started his project in the summer of that year. In 2017, the photographs and video parts were exhibited for the first time, and the latter constitute the short film Leninopath. As a thoroughly anthropological-ethnographic work, it documents how many different opinions there are in Ukraine about Lenin and what he represents: Locals repeatedly say that the statue "did not embarrass" them, while others have sharply sharper views on both ends of the spectrum. By focusing mainly on the empty plinths, Jermolaewa creates a panoramic and lighter comic portrait of Ukraine through the country's villages, towns and cities – from urban decay to idyllic, almost rural surroundings, with livestock that steals the attention.

Maskirovka depict the techno-saviors in their nocturnal environment.

subculture. Maskirovka however, has been conducted urban, and the fruit of Zielony's deep dive into Kiev's techno scene – more specifically the world of the trans environment – between October 2016 and July 2017. Zielony was born in Wuppertal in 1973, and has long portrayed young subcultures in cities around the world. He has moved to the brave fringes to examine how young people's attempts to express themselves are shaped when exposed to mass media. The film takes the title from the old Soviet / Russian "trickery" tactics of warfare (Zielony says that the term here "refers to the vulnerable and insidious situation the protagonists live and act in") and portrays the techno-saviors in their nocturnal environment. Rapidly pulsating rhythms mimic the dance floor lights and illegal LGBTQI clubs, where the excessively dressed and dressed hedonists gather secretly after dark.

The film was originally presented in galleries, along with 42 photographs (which are also collected in book form) – which shows that the film is explicitly intended to be impressionistic rather than journalistic. And Zielony, like most artists, is cautious with labels: "I have the feeling that documentaries offer sea fiction than fiction films do. ” But as a deep dive into how Kiev in the mid-2010s felt for its beleaguered, indomitable, defiant and young residents, this is truly an irresistibly powerful dokument. Brash and brave, the film hammered loose, as Lomasjenko's left.

The film MASKIROVKA can be streamed here soon

Neil Young
Neil Young
Young is a regular film critic for Modern Times Review.

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