Culture In Depth, 02/05/2017

Alisa in Warland: When Camera Became Lifebuoy and Way to Survive

Kharkivite Liubov Durakova made Alisa in Warland documentary in 2014–2015 together with Alisa Kovalenko from Zaporizhia, who became not only a co-director but a main character in the film. Thus a stirring story about the rough events of Maidan and the first severe year of the Russian-Ukrainian war in Donbas turned not only into a documentary but into a sort of a diary, a reality stream of the authors, a remarkable experiment in the field.

The film directed by a Polish company was issued in November 2015. The world premiere was at the IDFA festival (Amsterdam), which is called “Cannes for documentaries”. Since it has been shown at more than 30 festivals all over the world, got some prestigious awards and applauded in Paris and Hague, in Mexico, Morocco, Poland, Lithuania, Finland, Spain, Belgium. At home the film was screened within Docudays 13 festival in 23 regions of Ukraine in October-December 2016.

Also, Alisa in Warland was broadcasted abroad: on Polish, Belsat and Estonian TV. “Unfortunately in Ukraine TV producers are not interested in broadcasting documentaries, there is no practice of monitoring documentaries, “hunting” for them, like in Poland,” says Liubov Durakova, explaining regrettable film art trends at home. As for filmmaking in Kharkiv, the 31-year old director simply says “It doesn’t exist.”


Question: What is Kharkiv for you?

Liubov Durakova: This is the city of my childhood. I finished school here in Industrial area. However, to enter the University, I went to Moscow – maybe more out of the teenage desire of change. Studied engineering of mineral resources there. I put up with it only for three years though (laughing). Then I came back to Kharkiv and I worked for KhTZ plant newspaper. That was where I studied Ukrainian. Yes, really! And due to it, I could later pass my Ukrainian exam to enter Karpenko-Kary (Karpenko-Kary Kyiv National Theatre, Cinema and Television University). In summer 2016 I took part in Galicia Cult in Kharkiv as a curator of a cinema residence, it was a great project. Now I have a feeling that after the period of passage I kind of hanging up or “hovering” in Kharkiv for a while.


Q: Your co-work with Alisa Kovalenko is such an unusual story. How did this chemistry arise?

LD: Alisa and I met in 2010 when we celebrated our entering Karpenko-Kary University and moving to the students’ hostel. We shared the room, and I was shooting her from time to time. It was easy for us to work together. And when we made our first documentary Sister Zo about a girl footballer who became a car washer, with Alisa’s cousin staring, our work was initailly panned by critics (though was favourably accepted later), and it was easier to deter their pressure together. Later we entered Andrzej Wajda Film school (Master School of Film Directing) and I presented my film about Alisa who was going to Donbas and made a film about Ukrainian soldiers – she was interested in the people who decided to defend Ukraine. And it was our Polish art tutor who recommended us to combine these two films into one documentary. Thus Alisa became the character of our film and its co-director.


Q: How long did you work on the documentary?

LD: If we are talking about the footage it took us about two years. It all started with the events on Maidan in November 2013, and then in spring 2014 Alisa went to Donetsk and shot pro-Russian marches when Ukrainian flags were burnt. She visited first Ukrainian check points and once on her way back she was taken prisoner near occupied Kramatorsk – the taxi driver squealed on her to separatists that she was a “Ukrainian spy” and she spent five horrible days in captivity. It did not stop her, and later she spent a lot of time in Pesky and Donetsk airport in 2014–2015, which made the largest part of the film. It was the first wave of the war really. Now everything is different. And we are different too.


Q: But you started shooting at Maidan, didn’t you?

LD: Yes, though only a short part of it was included in the film. At the beginning, all filmmakers were so agitated about Maidan but later the interest grew down, it was kind of oversaturation of it. And the episode when Alisa is carrying some oil for Molotov cocktail with burning Trade union building at the background was greatly admired by our foreign friends at first – but later the Polish producers did not want to include this moment in our film. And we had to insist that this was important for the film, as it was the beginning of war though we had not realized it then. We had to fight for Maidan moments, and we managed to persuade them… Surprisingly, there is no good full-length film about Maidan 2013–2014 still. I think, for Revolution of Dignity photos got more powerful, they worked better than movies.


Q: How was your film accepted abroad?

LD: There was vivid interest to it. Though the most common question which we were asked at the festivals was “What is happening in Ukraine?” as there was lack of information about our events. And many people did not understand that we have a real war. Also some questions – namely in Amsterdam – made us understand that Russian propaganda is influential in Europe. Some questions left us perplexed – for example, people asked us “When is the war going to end?” as if we could answer it.


Q: Were there unexpected reactions for your documentary?

LD: There is an episode, when the soldiers were teaching Alice to shoot – it was just training. And some critics argued that a filmmaker had no right to hold a gun, even without shooting. Nevertheless one of the critics understood this as a “desperation gesture”. For me, personally this film and the camera in my hand became a lifebuoy, which helped me to survive the turmoil and chaos, to rank and to live through everything that was happening then, when the reality was going crazy, and the camera helped to understand what was going on, saving our sanity. Though our emotions about the war and our attitudes differed.


Q: So will you continue your artistic cooperation with Alisa?

LD: Well, it was really tiring for Alisa to direct and to star at the same time, so we decided to take a “breathing timeout”, kind of respite. I have worked with Georg Genoux recently with his Theatre of Displaced People, I’ve been making photos and video for performance in Berlin for 3–4 months. Alisa is involved in a new project and making her third film about a girl footballer again. Moreover, she is expecting a baby with her French boyfriend Stephane Siohan, they live in Kyiv. Yes, this romance which started on Maidan and came through our film has a happy ending, kind of “love which overcomes war.”


Interview: Olena Sokolynska

Photo: Marina Liapina