'20 days in Mariupol': Ukrainian documentary about the first days of the war is shown in the USA
A film by Ukrainian director Mstislav Chernov called "20 Days in Mariupol" (20 Days in Mariupol) is shown in several US cities. The film was completely shot in the first three weeks of the war and is a brutal, poignant and very lively chronicle of the inhumanity of the Russian aggressors and the incredible suffering of their victims - civilians in Ukraine. The edition told in more detail Voice of America.
The film evokes deep emotions.
Many American reviewers emphasize in their reviews that while watching the film, one should not look away from the shocking scenes that abound in it. After all, the picture allows viewers to truly feel what war is and what grief and tragedy it brings to Ukrainian families.
Mstislav Chernov and his small film crew documented the events that took place in Mariupol during the first three weeks of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The film depicts the siege and destruction of the city by barbarian invaders, the heroic efforts of doctors who saved the seriously wounded under shelling, as well as the funeral of the killed local residents.
Mstislav Chernov acted as director, screenwriter and cameraman of the film. Initially, he started his career as a street photographer in his native Kharkiv and over time became one of the most famous Ukrainian photojournalists in the world. "20 Days in Mariupol" is his directorial debut.
In January 2023, the film "20 Days in Mariupol" was presented at the International Film Festival of Independent Film in Sundance (Utah). There he was awarded the prestigious Audience Award in the World Documentary category. This work has received awards at several other world documentary film screenings.
Chernov's team, including Yevgeny Maloletka, Vasilisa Stepanenko, and Laurie Hinnant, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for "public service." A series of photographs by Evgeniy Maloletka from Mariupol was awarded the prestigious World Press Photo award, one of the most prestigious among photo contests in the world.
Currently, 20 Days in Mariupol is shown in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, San Francisco and other cities in North America. Previously, it was presented to audiences in Denver and Minneapolis.
"20 days in Mariupol": a brutal documentary report
"The documentary expresses the inexpressible in words." This is the title of Steve Pond's review of the film "20 Days in Mariupol" on the independent film site The Wrap.
The review notes that various people the director has focused with his camera demand that he keep filming. Initially, residents were skeptical and wary of documentary filmmakers, but when they realized that filmmakers strive to capture history and are ready to risk their lives for this, the attitude towards them has changed dramatically. People willingly answer questions, do not leave the camera. Local residents testify to the destruction caused by Russian aggressors and the suffering of civilians in Ukraine. One of the surgeons working in a hastily equipped operating room asks them: "Be sure to film how these bastards kill children."
"20 Days in Mariupol" can be considered the result of Chernov's agreement with those who asked him not to turn off the camera during the most terrible moments. The film mercilessly demonstrates the horrors of war, it can be called cruel.
It captures footage that causes anxiety and sadness. A dead four-year-old girl is being carried on a stretcher. The old woman sits in the shelter and strokes her cat - she is no longer at home. Doctors are trying unsuccessfully to revive an 18-month-old baby. A close-up shows the blood-soaked boot of a boy who had both of his legs blown off by an explosion while playing catch in a hospital corridor. A Russian tank with a Z sign fires directly at a residential building. The maternity hospital and the last fire station in the city are completely destroyed.
Comparing Chernov's film with another notable documentary about the war in Ukraine, Freedom on Fire: Ukraine Fights for Freedom, Steve Pond notes that director Evgeny Afineevsky talks about various aspects of the war and acquaints viewers with key figures and events of the first stage of the confrontation, while 20 Days is a reportage deliberately devoid of a broad political and military context, as well as any positive emotions that would be inappropriate in this context.
Tragedy - close-up
It is worth recalling that Chernov and his film crew, representing the Associated Press agency, decided to stay in the port of Mariupol when a large-scale war broke out there. During the first 20 days of a full-scale invasion, they documented all the events in the city and constantly sent their materials to editors through rare opportunities for access to the Internet.
Three weeks later, Russian invaders surrounded the hospital where the reporters were. Chernov and his colleagues joined the Red Cross humanitarian convoy and thus escaped this terrible situation.
The footage was originally filmed for Associated Press news spots. However, the public television channel PBS joined the project just in time with its prestigious documentary department, which became a co-producer of the future film. Chernov himself voiced the text in English. Almost all dialogues in the film are in Russian, which is spoken by many residents of this region of Ukraine.
Steve Pond notes that on the first day of Russian aggression, Chernov was so naive that he advised a local woman to return to her home, because he believed that Russian troops would not attack residential areas of the city. How wrong he was ... Later, this woman will reappear in the frame already having become homeless. On the third day, the fitness center turned into one of the largest makeshift bomb shelters in Mariupol. On the seventh day, the last road out of the city was blocked.
The hardships and deprivations of life in the surrounded city are shown in close-up. No water, gas, electricity. Internet and telephone connection are only available from time to time. The hospital lacks antibiotics and painkillers.
“The purpose of the film is very simple,” writes Pond. - Show the audience everything and not let them forget what they saw. He does not explain the war, he talks about what happened in this particular place for three weeks.
Symbol of dehumanization
In his review, The New York Times columnist Jason Faragou calls Mariupol a "martyr city" and Chernov and his team are "the last witnesses." Both of these characteristics are completely true. Russian troops destroyed the city, killing and injuring tens of thousands of civilians, including the elderly, women and children. Chernov and his team really became the last journalists left in this hell.
Faragou notes that the film "20 Days in Mariupol" is very important for understanding this war, it allows you to feel the ruthlessness and brutality of the Russian siege. Mariupol can now be seen as a symbol of dehumanization, along with My Lai (Songmy), Srebrenica and Aleppo.
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The reviewer notes how skillfully Chernov and his editor Michel Mizner from Frontline combine video frames of different clarity. The film uses three types of footage - panoramic drone shots of the dilapidated city, reportage fragments captured by Chernov's video camera in the most dramatic situations, and news clips from such reputable TV channels as CBSNews, France 24, Deutsche Welle, and other AP clients. Thus, the third type of filming presents unique footage of the Chernov team, which was shown by world news services.
On the authoritative critical rating aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Chernov's film received a 100% freshness rating and a score of 8.9 out of 10 based on twenty reviews from critics.
"Exhausting, but very realistic," called the film Kyle Smith of The Wall Street Journal.
"An almost apocalyptic diary of a city under siege that makes any television news look very different," said Matt Brennan of the Los Angeles Times.
“Mstislav Chernov, together with Evgeny Maloletka and Vasilisa Stepanenko, accomplished a feat in journalism,” wrote Valery Mirny on the Ukrainian portal The New Voice.
Presenting the film at the Sundance Film Festival, Mstislav Chernov said: “The film ends on the 20th day, but the war continues. What you see is happening now. This is not history. This is the present tense."
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