Strive For Human Dignity

Children in Competition Films in Kyiv 2014. By Radovan Holub
Young visitors at Molodist 2014

Young visitors at Molodist 2014


It was a little miracle that the festival really took place in Ukraine where it is still uncertain in which direction the events in society and in politics will move. We could see big boards with inscriptions Glory to Ukraine during the festival, we could talk to people who feel themselves as true Europeans and want to join Europe. We were witnesses of audiences storming into the cinemas in the city center. We saw an enormous interest of the public in the festival. But still, there was a kind of feeling some things at the festival had to be done in the last moment as the festival was not sure if it could be organized at all. People in Kyiv praise and enjoy culture. This was clear not only from the long queues in front of the cinemas but also from the reaction to the arson of one of the festival cinemas, Cinema Zhovten, maybe as a protest against showing queer films (the festival presented a special section Sunny Bunny with an independent competition program and a jury of its own). Two days after people demonstrated in front of the building of the Kyiv City State Administration waiting for the head of the office, Mr.Vitali Klitchko, wanting to tell him that the cinema Zhovten should be preserved and not replaced by any commercial development product. At the Closing Ceremony the minister of culture, Mr.Yevhen Nyshchuk, repeated that the cinema must remain. After all, we were really surprised how the festival looked like, how it was organized and how it worked for the audiences.

The International Competition was composed of 12 feature films. Some competition films were already successful in the festival circuit as the Austrian production Macondo (Sudabeh Mortezai) which was already shown at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2014. Similarly, the Ethiopian-US film Difret from Zeresenay Berhane Mehari had been shown at the Sundance Film Festival 2014 first. Both Difret and Macondo feature children as main characters. The leading character in Difret is a bright 14-year-old girl from rural Ethiopia (played by Tizita Hagere) which is on her way home from school when men on horses swoop in and kidnap her. The film is based on a true story that occurred in 1996 and recounts the far-reaching consequences of the marriage abduction by men who followed a traditional practice for obtaining a bride. Difret is an artistically compelling film, with Angelina Jolie as executive producer, and only the fourth Ethiopian film ever shot on 35mm. Our jury understood the film as a plea for humanity and courage to change the society for the better.

In Macondo, Austrian director of Iranian origins Sudabeh Mortezai decided that the hero of her story will be an eleven year old Chechen fugitive, Ramasan (Ramasan Minkailov). In other words, a human being which has a relatively good chance of integrating into a new society, being able to show the way forward to others. His mother, Aminat, lost her husband in the war and fled with her three children. In traditional Chechen society is a man considered to be the head of the family – so Ramasan must prove he can do it. He feels that he has to take care and responsibility for his mother and his two younger sisters. This is also due to the fact that he speaks German much better than his mother.

Macondo is situated in the Simmeringer Heide near the highway S1 which is well known to those who drive by car between Vienna, Graz and Bratislava. The village of emigrants is situated on the outskirts of Vienna and is called Kaiserebersdorf officially. The byname Macondo was wrily invented by politically persecuted refugees from Chile in 1974 who took it from Gabriel García Márquez’ novel One Hundred Years Of Solitude from 1967. The film’s Macondo is an unusual “village” between a waste landfill, a highway bridge, and small gardens with wooden houses. Currently some 1500 people from 20 countries live here. Most of them are refugees who had to leave their homeland for political or economic reasons. They may not stay here longer than five years.  What connects these people is a similar fate: forced exodus from their original countries. Having found refuge in Macondo in the last fifty years, they represent a great part of contemporary history, beginning with Hungarians fleeing from the suppression of the uprising in 1956.

The competition film The Lesson (Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov), a Bulgarian-Greek-German co-production, takes children as protagonists as well. The story takes place in the Bulgarian town Blagoevgrad where a young English teacher, Nadezhda, desperately tries to avoid the foreclosure of her house and has to borrow money under humiliating conditions. The school children figure as a background of a story of downgrading human existence. The Swiss film Viktoria: A Tale of Grace and Greed (Men Lareida) features a very young Roma girl, Viktoria (Franciska Farkas), who leaves her home town of Budapest to earn big money in Switzerland. Night after night she stands under the dim streetlights on the whore pit and waits for customers to satisfy them inside their cars on dark parking lots. Although surrounded by greed, fast sex, and violence, she finds friendship and even love.

Finally, the Russian-German co-production Correction Class by Ivan I. Tverdovsky tells an impressive story about Lena (Maria Poezhaeva), a girl afflicted by myopathy. In spite of her disease she is a bright girl who, after years studying at home, is eager to get back to school. She is assigned to a special class for disabled pupils closed off from the others. At the end of the year, in front of a school commission, they have to prove that they deserve to be moved back into a “normal” class. Enervated or authoritative teachers however show absolutely no desire to motivate the students and help them to improve. On the contrary, they try to quash any interest of their pupils right from the start. Correction Class is a perfect study of a group of young people on the brink of criminal behavior whose talents are dumped by the teachers and by the environment. Lena, after all, is a normal human being longing for love and respect.

These three films show the striving for human dignity in societies which privilege fear, social stratification and money. It is no coincidence that so many heroes of the stories of money, greed and humiliation are children. They are the most sensitive ones and they can also eventually change the rules. And maybe, children will create the force which will help to change Ukraine for the better. 

Radovan Holub giving a masterclass at Molodist 2014