Anthropology of war

Since Euromaidan and the first Russian invasion in 2014, Ukrainian filmmakers have been prolifically recording the impact of war on society. The result is an immensely powerful and varied body of work across genres and styles. A survey.

Barbara Wurm

‘What power does art have in wartime?’ asks the poster for Iryna Tsilyk’s multiple award-winning début feature-length film, The Earth is as Blue as an Orange (2020). This is a central question for filmmaking in Ukraine, a country where an actor played a history teacher who miraculously became president, and then – like in a fairy tale – became president in real life. In Ukraine, the boundaries between reality and cinema are blurred; fiction becomes fact and vice versa. Filmmaking is a gesture of self-empowerment. Cinema, life and death are inextricably interwoven.

Among many other things, Tsilyk’s film was a tribute to a documentary produced almost a century earlier by a Ukrainian film studio. Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera is still considered the apotheosis of self-reflexive meta-cinema, and Vertov the wunderkind of the Soviet avant-garde. Man with a Movie Camera is famous for being the first film to realize the dream of an empowered subject who takes history – and the writing of history – into their own hands; who sees themselves not only in the action, but in filmmaking itself, and in the act of watching films on the screen….