EU funds inclusive film festival in Kyiv

Inclusivity has ceased to be something faraway and incomprehensible for Ukraine. One step after another, little by little, we are bringing ourselves to the state of mind in which we no longer look away but act, help and win. Win, first of all, over firmly-entrenched prejudices which, worse than any spokes in our wheel, slow us down on the way toward not as much European as humane future. Talking about inclusivity is as necessary as believing in these words and understanding them: we are all equal, and we all welcome each other. To be sure, talking about certain things isn’t that easy sometimes, and that’s when art comes to rescue. Read on to find out about Eurofest: Cinema for Everyone, the first inclusive film festival, about the feature presentations and the perception of each other without labels and clichés.

… In a kids’ store, a girl of some seven years says to her mother: “Look, mommy, at that crippled Barbie over there! And here is a fat Barbie! Mom, they’re ugly!”

The saleswoman stays silent. And when the girl and her mother walked away, she said: “They have been brought here only recently. This collection doesn’t sell well. I think that in Ukraine, these dolls won’t be liked much. Although that’s very sad.”

It was an episode at a store which Khrystyna Biliakovska told about on Facebook, summing it up: “Tolerance must be developed in people, just like table manners. You aren’t saying “I’m not teaching my child to eat using a fork, because I think she wouldn’t like it much”, are you?”

Every one of us was different than others at least once in life – with a different appearance or different mental abilities than someone next to us. Many of us really know what it means to be different. But how do we react to the otherness?

It is worth citing these depressing figures: such a value as tolerance is important to only a quarter of surveyed Ukrainians. The degree of public readiness to restrict the rights of vulnerable groups remains high, and no significant changes have occurred in this regard during the past two years.

A nationwide representative survey of the Ukrainian adult population was held between 11 and 24 July 2018 by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation and Ukrainian Sociology Service at the request from UNDP Ukraine and in collaboration with the Human Rights Information Center. According to this survey:

– 66% of respondents believe that the rights of drug addicts can be restricted;

– 56% justify the restriction of rights of former convicts;

– 51% are prepared to restrict the rights of people with unpopular political views;

– 47% are intolerant toward the Roma and the LGBT community;

– 28% oppose the prospects of accepting refugees from other countries.

Ukrainians also named the grounds on which people are discriminated against in Ukraine:

– 40% of respondents mentioned age;

– 34% mentioned disability;

– 24% mentioned sexual orientation;

– 25% mentioned state of health;

– 25% mentioned gender.

People in Ukraine started to talk about inclusion 10 years ago, when Ukraine ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which envisages the rights of people in all areas on the basis of equal opportunities.

Inclusion is the process of truly real engagement of people with disabilities, physical or mental, in active social life. The usefulness and importance of this engagement is beneficial for all members of the society. Therefore, the key sense of the inclusion process can be formulated as follows: we all welcome each other.

Otherwise, it becomes everyday intolerance, pain and suffering, if disability is regarded as only a biological feature and nothing more.

All societies went through the issue of inclusivity, so we are not unique in this regard. However, we can already see the examples of overcoming and the possible ways which could probably help us avoid mistakes and expedite the process.

The inclusion of people with disabilities, with mental disorders means additional opportunities and resources both for these people themselves and for the society. It’s like a two-way road. Therefore, the question of inclusion is not just a question for the government and managers. It is a test for all of us for how humane we are.

That’s what Eurofest: Cinema for Everyone, a film festival which ended last week at Zhovten movie theater in Kyiv, was devoted to.

171It is worth pointing out that this festival was not just first of its kind; it was unique. For the first time, the audience was presented with eight European films which touched upon various aspects of inclusivity: age, race, gender, sexual orientation. Two films were exhibited with audio description (an additional audio narration explaining key visual elements for the benefit of visually impaired people) and special subtitling (text displayed at the bottom of the screen for people with impaired hearing).

The purpose of Eurofest was to increase, via cinematography, the level of tolerance and equality in Ukrainian society and broaden leisure opportunities for people with disabilities.

So, here is a brief overview:

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A still frame from Champions

The first film exhibited at Eurofest was Champions, a Spanish comedy-drama film directed by Javier Fesser. The plot is uncomplicated: a basketball coach sentenced to community service was ordered to turn a team of people with mental disorders into champions. The high level of socialization of these people in Spain is impressive. This film is about the self-dedication and power of people, about how people can do something to the maximum. This is a subtle, impressive comedy. It has a lot of tenderness and softness, care and sensitivity. The film is based on actual events, and it is not a fiction. Another good thing is that a film devoted to this topic wasn’t tragic, as we are used to. This film is not about suffering but about opportunities. And it is very important to see films like that, because understanding promotes approximation and understanding of each other.

I saw myself a hearing-impaired man giving a commentary to a journalist with the assistance from a sign language interpreter.

He said: “I am touched by this film; I cried and laughed. For me, the chance to watch a movie with subtitles is simply a joy. And it is very important for us, for deaf people, to feel everything which people with normal hearing feel.”

The film was exhibited with audio description and special subtitles for hearing-impaired persons.

The film by Javier Fesser won the Spanish “Oscar”, the Goya Awards; it received awards in three out of the 11 nominations: Best Film of the Year, Best Original Song and Best New Actor.

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A still frame from Portrait of a Lady on Fire

The second film was Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a French historical drama film directed by Céline Sciamma. It tells the story of a young artist commissioned to paint a young woman’s wedding portrait. In daytime, she carefully studied her model, and at nights, painted her portrait. Gradually, the heroines developed a closer bond… The film is set in the 18th century Brittany, France. It became one of the best films of the year, telling the story of love beyond time, beyond gender. The director received the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival.

The film was exhibited with audio description and special subtitles for hearing-impaired persons.

On the French Riviera, the film received the Best Screenplay Award and the Queer Palm awarded to the best films devoted to the LBGT theme.

The film will be released on 6 February 2020.

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A still frame from Lajkó: A Gypsy in Space

The third film was Lajkó: A Gypsy in Space, a Hungarian comedy-drama film directed by Balázs Lengyel. As you could guess, this film is about adventures of a gypsy in space.

For his entire life, a crop-sprayer named Lajos Serbán, known to all as Lajkó, dreamed about the outer space. And in 1957, the Soviet Union decided to give Hungary the honor of providing the first human to orbit in space.

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A still frame from Never Look Away

The fourth film was Never Look Away, a German romantic drama film directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. It tells the story of Gerhard Richter, a German artist who grew up during the Nazi era and whose later life and, therefore, work were affected by this fact.

The film by the director of the drama film The Lives of Others was exhibited for the first time as part of the official selection at the Venice International Film Festival, where it received the Young Cinema Award. The film was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Foreign-Language Film and for Best Cinematography.

This film will be released in February 2020.

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A still frame from Winter Flies

The fifth film was Winter Flies, a comedy-drama film by Slovenian director Olmo Omerzu. It follows two teenage boys who set on an uneasy journey, which predictably becomes a story of growing up, full of impulsiveness, exuberance and innocence. This is a story about children who lack parental attention and care. And these are the topics and problems which are contemporary for our country as well. Ukrainian children say that their parents do not listen to them, do not hear them and do not take seriously their problems and interests. Noninvolvement of children in the solution of problems that concern them. Positive parenthood is the name of the trend which creates opportunities for parents and children to collaborate in order to straighten their lives. And also, it is important to have supportive friends and relatives, and when there is a favorable and benevolent atmosphere in school. This film is about emotions of teenagers.

The film, coproduced by Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland and France, premiered at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, where Olmo Omerzu received the Best Director Award.

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A still frame from Eaten by Lions

The sixth film was Eaten by Lions, a British comedy film directed by Jason Wingard. And true to its genre, this is a funny, although sometimes also sad, story of half-brothers Pete and Omar.

After the death of their grandmother, the lads want to live together, but Pete’s aunt does not want to accept Omar into her family. So, the half-brothers embark on a journey in search of Omar’s estranged father, knowing only that his name is Malik and that he lives in Blackpool.

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A still frame from Sons of Denmark

The seventh film was Sons of Denmark, a social thriller as the Danish director Ulaa Salim calls it. The film is set in Denmark, the year 2025. After a major terrorist act in Copenhagen radicalization around the country has intensified and ethnic tensions are running high. On the eve of a parliamentary election, the extremely nationalist political leader Martin Nordahl is set for a landslide victory. Zakaria gets involved in a radical organization, where he forms a bond with Ali. This organization strives to prevent the neo-Nazis from taking power in the country. The young people are prepared to act, not realizing that they are both just tools in the hands of people with power.

Born in Copenhagen, the film’s director, Ulaa Salim, is a son of refugees from Iraq; this film is based on his own experience with ethnic hatred.

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A still frame from Obscuro Barocco

The eighth film was Obscuro Barocco, the only documentary film at the festival. Made by the Greek director Evangelia Kranioti, this film is a romantic poem portraying Luana Muniz (1961-2017), a Brazilian transgender activist. The story takes place in Rio de Janeiro, with its political conflicts, carnivals, and the newest bodies whose transformations no longer recognize gender divisions.

A Greek and French coproduction, the film won a Jury Award from the Teddy Award program at the Berlin International Film Festival.

This film will be released on 1 May 2020.

It is worth noting that all films included to Eurofest: Cinema for Everyone were exhibited in the original language.

Why are we talking about this festival as a unique event? Because it brought together, for the first time, films which have a common idea: we are different, not like each other, inconvenient, unusual, but first of all, we all are humans who have the right to life and self-expression.

Moreover, Ukrainian movie theaters do not offer conditions for visually- or hearing-impaired people to watch films.

Hromadske TV made a report about Natalia Harkava, a public activist who has only 3% vision. To be able to watch films, she needs audio description (a special audio narration explaining key visual elements). At this festival, Natalia received this opportunity for the first time, when watching the film Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

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Natalia Harkava: “In our country, there are many people who are blind or deaf, or have movement or mental disorders. They are almost completely taken out of life, of active leisure”

Natalia says: “This device is very important for me, because it was explaining to me what was happening on the screen. Who is moving and how, and who does what. This audio description helped imagine the full picture, and made the perception of film much easier. Audio description helped understand what was going on without looking at the screen. There is such a notion as universal design. In our country, there are many people who are blind or deaf, or have movement or mental disorders. They are almost completely taken out of life, of active leisure. And even mothers with baby carriages or elderly people have certain spatial limitations. The auditoriums of movie theaters, concert halls, drama theatres and even entertainment complexes are not suitable for those who do not fit into the norms for all. Convenience and accessibility: that’s what important.”

Before film exhibitions, the viewers were treated to cookies made by the bakery called Good Bread From Good People. The bakery employs people with mental disorders. Yurii Netskyi, the bakery’s manager, says that people who work here value their job very much and do it with great love. They work as bakers, couriers and administrators.

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“By buying a cookie, you give us work and the opportunity to be of use”

Yurii says: “Working here is perhaps the only chance these people have to socialize, to be among other people, to grow up and not to feel being taken out of life. Our bakery was established specifically to employ people with mental disorders. So, we are rather an exception from the rule. Other businesses should think more seriously about the social component of their activity. And also, people must know that they come to our bakery not just to buy cookies, but also, to give work to our people.”

It is worth noting that Zhovten movie theater is one of the few places so far where people with disabilities could watch a movie. Unfortunately, despite substantial efforts from the organizers, there weren’t many viewers of this kind in the auditorium. The total ignoring of problems in this area led to certain distrust on part of the people with disabilities. Therefore, it will take certain time to return them to active life, to participation in cultural events. Fortunately, the first step has already been taken. And thanks to the festival’s theme: expanding leisure opportunities for people with disabilities, it was shown quite vividly.

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Tetiana and her son Volodymyr. The boy, 14, has Down syndrome, tetraplegia and epilepsy. “For a long time, I believed that I have to handle everything on my own. This is my child, my fate, my story. There were people who wanted to help me, but I closed myself off. Volodya taught me to accept help.” Photo by Serhii Sarakhanov

As part of the festival, Zhovten movie theater also hosted Be Yourself photo exhibition by Kurazh Bazar, a Kyiv’s flea market. The exhibition featured 46 different stores, and had the main purpose of helping people find their story among others, love and accept themselves and others around them. The photo project was created by the photographers Roman Pashkovskyi, Serhii Sarakhanov, Daria Shramko and Ksenia Kargina.

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Nastia, 40, is a transgender woman and an activist. “At the polyclinic, when you have a male name and the appearance of a woman, doctors often say it loudly, so that everybody in the queue could hear that.” Photo by Serhii Sarakhanov

Another important point: After the end of the festival, activists and cinema club directors across Ukraine will be able to exhibit Eurofest films in their cities as part of Cinema Club. All-Ukrainian Network project. For that purpose, submit your application here.

Eurofest was organized by Arthouse Traffic, a Ukrainian film company specializing in exhibiting art films. The project was funded by the EU’s Culture Bridges program. In Ukraine, this program is being implemented by the British Council in the partnership with the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC), a network of European national institutes of culture.

By Daryna Smyrenko

Source: Opinion