Thanks to the DOCU/CLUB project, human rights documentaries from all around the world can now be watched even in small towns and villages of Ukraine. It is popularized in schools, libraries, community organizations and correctional colonies.This year, the 17th Docudays International Film Festival was held online for the first time. The festival always becomes a significant cultural and human rights event in the life of the capital. However, it would be unfair if only Kyiv residents had the opportunity to join this event.
Docudays launched a traveling festival, where residents of the regions are shown the same tapes that Kyivans recently watched, and then, with the financial support of the European Union, launched the Network of DOCU/CLUBs for Reforms all-Ukrainian project. Today, there are more than 270 permanent film clubs in all corners of Ukraine, which are attended by 40 thousand audiences. This story is about one of such clubs operating in Kherson.
“I have never imagined that you could open your own movie club”
At one time, Ilona Korotitsyna, a journalist of Vhoru online newspaper and an employee of the local Charitable Organization “Charity and Health Foundation”, attended the only Docudays film club in Kherson at the time.
“I fell in love with documentaries. It’s like opening my eyes; it really inspired me. This is not just a movie we watch eating popcorn but also an opportunity to discuss with other audiences and experts who were invited to watch. However, I felt just like part of the audience and did not imagine that you could just open your own film club,” says Ilona.
The foundation where she works has long been a regional partner of the traveling festival in Kherson. So when they heard about the DOCU/CLUB initiative, they didn’t hesitate to apply for a long time. It was approved, and Ilona and her colleague underwent a three-day training, which allowed her to step out of the role of an audience member and master new skills:
“When we got to the training, we had to turn everything upside down. We learned to moderate: not only to ask questions, but also to look for answers together with the audience.”
Who is the club intended for?
The film club began operating in early 2017. The peculiarity of the club is that it is a visiting one, i.e. it does not have stationary premises for showing films. In addition, it works with a very diverse audience, including young people, residents of small communities in the Kherson region, ATO/JFO participants, schoolchildren, law enforcement officers, as well as prisoners of correctional colonies and pre-trial detention centers, people living with HIV, and members of the LGBT community.
On the peculiarities of working with prisoners
As a rule, not many people come to watch a film in a colony or a pre-trial detention center – about ten. At first, they went with distrust; there was no special discussion after the film. But later the initiative interested the prisoners and they asked to come again. It was important to establish a certain level of trust in order for people to be able to open up and speak freely about their emotions. Over time, club members became more outspoken.
“When I hear people share their childhood memories or personal experiences and I recall, for example, showing films in the past years, I realize that this is our small achievement,” Ilona admits.
The leadership of penitentiary institutions is happy to make advances to the Foundation, which brings equipment and shows films to people who would not otherwise have had such an opportunity. Films are selected on topics of concern to prisoners. For example, the last time women in a pre-trial detention center were shown Almost Holy, an American film about Hennadii Mokhnenko, a priest from Mariupol, who took homeless juvenile drug addicts from the streets and organized a rehabilitation center and asylum in the city. The women shared their experiences of running away from their homes, living on the streets, using or distributing drugs. Staff of the pre-trial detention center and a local psychologist were pleasantly impressed by the discussion that took place after watching the film.
One of the audience members said: “When I was a child, I also ran away from home. Of course, I did not live on the street, I spent nights with my friends. It happened that I spent nights on a bench, but not for long. But in no case did they sell me drugs. The scariest scenes in the film are those showing children with hand pricks. It should not be so. It seems to me that there’s no so much horror on the streets.”
How cinema helped create 11 community organizations
Since Charitable Organization “Charity and Health Foundation” has a public reception, the film club’s visits also include free legal aid. It works like this: people come to a village club, a house of culture or a community center to watch a film. They watch a film, discuss it, and then Olena Stariuk, the Foundation’s lawyer, head of reception and permanent film club expert, consults on the human rights that the film has violated, or tries to help community members with their concerns.
The example of Ukrainian Sheriffs, a film by Roman Bondarchuk, which was nominated from Ukraine for the Oscar in 2016, is illustrative. The film tells the story of two men from Stara Zburivka in Kherson Oblast, who assumed the duties of police and social workers in the village. Sheriffs was shown before the establishment of the film club, at the stage of the traveling festival. Many ATO participants came to watch the film willing to unite and do something useful together, for example, to protect the territory where they live, promote the adaptation of military operation veterans and provide psychological assistance. As a result, Charity and Health Foundation helped create 11 community organizations.
The echo of the film is still palpable: this year, on 29 April, Docudays conducted Children Need a Sheriff, an online discussion, where the best experts of Ukraine analyzed the safe environment in communities and respect for children’s rights and talked about ways to improve police reform.
Another film that left no one indifferent was Shut the F*ck Up!, which told a high-profile story of Serhii Chaharov, who had been fighting corruption in his native village of Hatne near Kyiv since he was 15 years of age. All mass media of the country wrote about this case. During the village council session, its member accused of corruption by Serhii publicly threatened the activist, and one night an explosive was thrown at his yard.
Having watched the film, a district inspector said: “in fact, police officers want to actively help and do everything much faster but we are all so overloaded with work that there is simply not enough time for anything.”
The topics of documentaries are very diverse. Kherson audiences also watched such films as White Mama about the challenges of adoption and adaptation of a child from an orphanage, The Cleaners about security in the digital age, Bully about the problem of bullying among juveniles and many others. Thanks to two regional activists, the film club has already held 29 film shows for 891 people.
Author: Andrii Avramenko