How Kyiv’s Molodist International Festival endured in the midst of war

Ukraine’s struggle for survival against Russia’s war machine is not only taking place in the frozen trenches of the Eastern Front. Far away from the front lines around Kharkiv and Cherson, in the capital Kiev, a cultural front is also at work.

On December 1st – officially the first day of winter – the Molodist International Film Festival opened its 51st edition in a snowy city under a clear blue sky.

The venerable international feature and short film festival was originally founded in the Soviet 1970s as a student film showcase. Despite fears earlier this year that it would have to be cancelled, organizers have now staged a shortened, three-day festival program in Kiev, a month after some sections ran under the aegis of the Hamburg Film Festival in Germany.

Andriy Khaalpakhchi, the festival’s longtime artistic director, said the event – which usually takes place in early summer – was scheduled for October in Kiev, but a series of Russian rocket attacks on the city, killing scores of civilians and injuring dozens, forced organizers to scrap these plans.

“Originally we weren’t sure if we would even make it in Kiev – but it was a good sign that we were able to organize parts of it in Hamburg, which sent a positive message to the international film community,” said Khaalpakhchi, speaking with diversity at the festival opening.

“We really want to show that the cultural front is open, that culture still exists in Ukraine. It is a message to our international partners that we will continue our cultural life.”

Hosting a film festival with an absent international jury (headed by Berlinale Managing Director Mariette Rissenbeek) in a country where Russian missile strikes have destroyed 40% of its power generation capacity and at a time when power outages at night are frequent Kiev in the dark was, to say the least, a challenge. Millions have fled and of those who remain, six million have no regular electricity, heat or water – not to mention those who die daily on the front lines or from the bombing of homes and infrastructure.

“We wanted to do our opening in a subway station but had to change our plans because that wasn’t practical,” Khaalpakhchi said, adding that US TV host David Letterman had previously hosted a show with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky in a Metro station in Kiev had produced This year it was impossible to hear anything without headphones.

Inviting international guests was also a challenge.

“We wanted Sean Penn – to whom we are giving an honorary award – to come but he couldn’t come at the time; he has proven to be a great friend of Ukraine and completed the film he was shooting here and loaned his Oscar to the President’s office for the duration of the war,” Khaalpakhchi said.

Although the jury and Penn were absent, the festival organized around 15 foreign filmmakers and guests willing and able to make the arduous night train journey from neighboring Poland.

At the opening on Thursday at the Zhovten cinema in Kiev, where the Polish-Ukrainian co-production Tata (director: Anna Maliszewska, starring Erik Lubos) had its Ukrainian premiere, the audience was advised to get into the dugout or the nearby one to go to the subway station if an air raid alarm went off. If the lights went out but no air raid siren sounded, the audience was instructed to wait five or ten minutes for the generators to come on.

The films screened at the festival include films from the national program (Kateryna Gornostai’s “Stop-Zemlia” was already announced in Hamburg as the festival’s Grand Prix winner), the festival’s traditional Scandinavian panorama, an international Festival of Festivals, and – for those willing to stay in the cinema during the 11pm-5am curfew – a Midnight Screenings programme.

Clemens Poole is a Kiev-based cultural programmer and director from New York whose film Dima, Dmitry, Dmitro – Glory to the Heroes is in the festival program. she said diversity that creating spaces for cultural life in wartime is an essential part of maintaining morale.

A number of other screenings of festival titles are planned for the general public this week.

Oleksandr Hoison, a 21-year-old film student at Kyiv National University of Cinema and Arts whose animated short documentary The Analogy of Space was screened at Molodist, said the same is true at other smaller arts events, including documentary and short film festivals Sei , which has been running since the summer, Molodist, as one of Ukraine’s oldest international feature festivals, was an important event for Kiev’s artistic community.

“It is important for us to send a message to the international community that life goes on,” he said.

Igor Savychenko, who produced the documentary One Day in Ukraine about the beginnings of the war, adapted from Volodomy Tikhyy ​​​​, said that cinema and art existed practically continuously not only in Kiev, but also in other cities such as the heavily shelled Kharkiv, despite War.

“It’s normal life for us. We shouldn’t stop going to the cinema, drinking champagne or celebrating anything,” Savychenko said diversity. How Kyiv’s Molodist International Festival endured in the midst of war

Charles Jones

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