How to tell the stories of war? How to face a topic that we are constantly informed of through television, radio, and the internet? The cell phones of Ukrainian soldiers, civilians, and international journalists are on standby at all times. Photos and videos are made public a few minutes after any event. So what can be offered to an audience who has seen explosions, fired rockets, bombed out tanks, a hail of missiles captured on CCTV, or Russian soldiers looting? How to surprise? How to make the viewer curious about all this mass of stimuli, horrific tragedies, and humanitarian horror?
We concluded that in our film, we would not show the war. We would focus on its consequences. We would look for ordinary, even banal, scenes of everyday life in the context of war. We were not interested in capturing spectacular shots, tragedy, crying, or despair. There is a lot of that in other reports from Ukraine. Through a simple concept that relies on long shots, captured with a static camera, we decided to transport the viewer from the cinema seat to Ukraine. We wanted them to feel the tragedy and atmosphere unfolding there. And to spend some time with Ukrainians, in their world, in these cruel, unusual circumstances. We knew from the beginning that the strength of this film would not be in the individual scenes but in the overall experience, this slow penetration into the tissue of war.
With W UKRAINIE (In Ukraine), we are not following the fate of individual characters. We are looking at the collective. The main character is a country at war. The country, and its people. The film rarely features dialogue. There is no voiceover, and no one explains or elaborates anything. We tell the story with images, with long shots, and wide frames. We want the viewer to contemplate the reality we are describing, to discover it for himself, and to build in him the curiosity of “what next?”, to feel a closeness with the people forced to face the consequences of the war.
An outside eye seems essential to a global understanding of history and, in this case, the war in Ukraine. So we have given ourselves the full authority to portray what is happening beyond our eastern border.
In "Zone of Transition", which deals with the fall of the Berlin Wall, philosopher Boris Buden analyzed how the event was perceived differently by direct participants and by outside observers. He concluded that the latter's interpretations provided the framework for understanding the processes and their geopolitical role. An outside eye seems essential to a global understanding of history and, in this case, the war in Ukraine. So we have given ourselves the full authority to portray what is happening beyond our eastern border. Especially since we are so involved in this war in various forms, offering assistance to our neighbours. And people are dying, losing the achievements of their lives and suffering unspeakable tragedy just a few kilometres from us, from the Poles, from the European Union. As documentary filmmakers, we had to capture what depressed us so much on February 24, 2022.
With our film, we wanted to achieve impressions similar to those that accompany us today when we watch the classics of Polish documentary filmmaking, BALLADA F-MOLL (Ballade in F minor), by Andrzej Panufnik or SUITA WARSZAWSKA (Warsaw Suite) by Tadeusz Makarczyński. Both films were made just after 1945. They show the scale of Warsaw's destruction, the return home of its occupants, and the city's rebuilding. The images of ruined Warsaw trigger the imagination tremendously, and work just as powerfully as footage of combat and military action. The viewer adds up what happened, the tragedy is behind each of the destroyed houses, and the experiences each wandering returnee carries in their luggage. We wanted to achieve a similar feeling when realising W UKRAINIE, showing the horror, brutality, and senselessness of war. Our task as filmmakers is to talk about this problem, not to allow it to be trivialized. The reality in which we function reinforces our conviction that we learn little, and do not draw lessons from history as humans. Unfortunately. So, how to tell the stories of war?
Piotr Pawlus, Tomasz Wolski