The most honest films


“The best playwright is life itself”, documentary film producers like to say. They insist that contemporary documentary films are often more interesting than those for entertainment.

They are always dialogue about human beings and if the films are on human rights, then the dialogue is doubly honest.

The first International Film Festival was held in Ukraine in 2003. The Festival is called: “Human Rights Documentary Film Days: Ukrainian context”, or more simply:

That first festival had only 36 films. Five years later, have received about 500 films from 43 countries.

For the Festival running at Kyiv’s Cinema House from 28 March to 4 April, 70 firms have been selected.

To find out more about the Festival, we spoke to its founders – Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union Volodymyr Yavorsky and Head of the Centre for Contemporary Information Technology Gennady Kaufman.

What distinguishes from other documentary film festivals?

G.K.  Our festival has two main aims: through serious film to draw the viewer’s attention to current human rights issues and to show the real face of the world, concealed behind the gloss of commercial cinema.  And the second aim is to enable Ukrainian viewers to see the best works in this area.

V.Y.   Human rights awareness and culture in society is the basis for the development of democracy. Films more than anything else, explain highly complex things in a simple and accessible form. The festival encourages us to look around and think about our lives and our values, about why we live the way we do and whether we can change anything.

The focal point is on the person and society, on the relations between people and the authorities.

It may sound like there are only problems and not very inspiring. However that’s not the case. You can see films about the lives of different people resolving very difficult issues, each in their own way. Stories like this can inspire us, motivate us to fight for our own rights.

I’d add that the festival does not accept any films of a propagandist nature, or films made to order by any political party, religious group or other groups with a specific interest.  We are presenting independent cinema and this key principle safeguards against propaganda and brainwashing.

G.K.  After virtually every film viewing there are discussions about the films with the participation of their producers, specialists on the issues raised in the film.

Following the main event in Kyiv at the end of March and beginning of April, the festival will travel around regions of the country. Last year visited 25 cities in 12 regions.

In each region the festival is held in places popular among young people. Very often the viewings continue non-stop from evening to the next morning. And there are never fewer than a hundred viewers. Later young people come up to us and say that they had no idea there was this kind of cinema., or “I won’t be able to watch all that artificial soap on television”. One not so young viewer made a wonderful comment: “These films help to clear the scaling from our hearts.”

This year marks the first five years of the Festival’s existence. What have you achieved in this period?

G.K.  The Festival now has a huge number of partners with over 30 organizations from within Ukraine and other countries helping to make it possible. In 2006 was accepted into the international network of human rights film festivals. Previously, our partners, Czech and Polish film festivals helped to select films for us; another third we received by asking for them, and only a third came to us spontaneously, with the authors offering them. Now around 80% of the applications come to us at the initiative of the creators and producers.

V.Y.   The festival programme has become more developed from the point of view of human rights as well. More and more film directors are giving their time to this area and the quality is improving. It’s becoming harder to choose the best films.

G.K.  Last year in the regions a whole network of festival clubs emerged where you can watch and discuss the films with viewers regularly throughout the year.

At present, following an initiative from the Ministry of Internal Affairs Public Council on Human Rights, some films will be included in the police training programme.

Many documentary film festivals have master classes where well-known directors help beginners to draw up attractive applications for producers. Is anything like that available at
G.K.  There is an international master class during the festival. Last year, not only Ukrainian, but also Russian and Belarusian directors took part, and there was a possibility to gain advice from the Polish documentary film master Martsel Lodzinski, who also presented a retrospective view of his work.  Later the best students of these master classes presented their projects brilliant at such project exhibitions at the Krakow and Leipzig film festivals. We also helped the organizers of an international market of creative documentary films East Silver to choose ten Ukrainian films. This year, the well-known director and producer Alexander Gootman will be giving a master class.

Which films this year will in your opinion create the “face of the festival” and which well-known directors are coming to Kyiv?

G.K.  There are a lot of films which have received awards from influential film forums. The festival will open with the film «Mother», produced by Pavel Kostomarov and Anton Kattin, an amazing Russian and Swiss duet. We have shown their films before: “Transformer” and “Peaceful life”. I was afraid to watch the new film, after all it’s rare for people to consistently maintain such a level. However this time the young directors have excelled themselves. “Mother” was declared the best Russian film last year, and has received a number of awards at international festivals. There is a very interesting programme of Polish documentary films. In fact there’s an indecently large number of very strong films.

Are you planning any special events for the festival this year?

V.Y.   We wanted to begin with something that’s fun. On the day after the opening, there will be an exhibition in Cinema House of a cartoon competition on human rights, where the winning entries will be announced. We are expecting a number of well-known Ukrainian cartoonists to take part. There will also be various actions on human rights issues running in parallel with the film viewings.

There will also be an international seminar entitled “Documentary films against injustice. International Practice.” Given that filmmaking is now accessible for virtually all interested, the international organization WITNESS has prepared a special training seminar on the effective use of mobile video and the Internet in human rights work.

G.K.  There will also be a videoteque where accredited participants will be able to watch any of the films, those being shown in the festival and others.

V.Y.   We traditionally have a human rights jury where the most influential and authoritative human rights defenders from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Polish assess the films on how well and deeply the theme of human rights defence is presented. This year there will for the first time be a professional competition with a jury of cinematographers choosing the best three films. We are also planning a competition of viewers’ favourites. We also invite firms, corporations and creative groups, as well as individuals, to suggest their nominations and prizes on human rights issues. Suggestions can be submitted on the website

The interviewer was Darya Averchenko

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