In October 2015, the Bulgarian Cultural Institute London hosted a screening of the new documentary Golos: Ukrainian Voices, directed by Dolya Gavanski and Fedor Levchenko. Since then, the film has also been screened in Ukraine, and at film festivals in Bulgaria, Montenegro and Russia. The last London screening in December 2015 was packed, and due to the high demand the film will be shown again in January 2016.
We talked to Dolya about her film.
UEL: As a Bulgarian citizen, why were you interested in making a film about Ukraine? What is your connection to Ukraine?
DG: Firstly, I should probably mention that I find it difficult to be identified as belonging to one nation only. I come from a country that does not exist anymore. My father is from former Yugoslavia, my mother is from Bulgaria, and I grew up in Belgrade, Samarkand, St Petersburg and Moscow, before moving to the UK at the age of 17. Maybe that is why I have a deep interest in storytelling, focusing on cultures and identities. As for my connection to Ukraine, apart from having studied in Soviet schools, of course, I have many Ukrainian friends.
UEL: When did you start working on this project, during the Maidan, or when it was over?
DG: We filmed in the summer of 2014, when they were clearing up the Maidan. It has never been a question for me whether it was worth it or not to make a documentary about Ukraine; I just felt I had to make it happen. I was too young when Yugoslavia fell apart, but this time I realised it was important to say something, in particular, about the absurdity of war.
The Maidan reminded me of the protests in Belgrade in the mid-1990s, when normal life in Serbia stopped for several months; when people stood up against war, corruption, and forged elections. Much of the humour, the spirit of unity, and hope for a better future resonates with the Maidan. People that I grew up with were on the streets back then only to experience, a few years down the line, the bombing of Belgrade, while I was doing my finals in Cambridge. I remember when the bombing ended I was reading Serbian newspapers, and even though I know the language I could not understand what they were saying: this was a language genre completely divorced from my own understanding of things.
So I wanted to provide a platform for the people of Ukraine that would be distinct from the mass media and politics. The focus on what people celebrate provided a context within which people opened up and felt safe to talk. Many of them were afraid to speak openly.
It takes a long time to recover from a war, and even if the war is not on your doorstep, but in your country, it still has a profound effect. Dolya Gavanski, film director
UEL: Tell us about the team that worked on the film.
DG: The film has basically grown out of my dialogue with the young Ukrainian filmmaker Fedor Levchenko. Even though at times we felt like killing each other in the editing suite, overall it was a very fruitful collaboration that we both cared about. Our wonderful editor Sanjin Perisic, originally from Sarajevo, and the composer Sacha Puttnam, who wrote the most beautiful and haunting score for the film, also had a particular feel for the film’s themes, and their contributions were crucial to the production.
UEL: What is the main message of your documentary?
DG: People’s commitment to struggle for peace is evident in the movie. People cannot be divided as pro-this or pro-that: our identities are much more complex. What I found particularly fascinating while working on the film was how some of the participants, from seemingly similar backgrounds, see or experience one and the same thing in completely different ways. At one point, we even wanted to introduce the word ‘Kaleidoscope’ to the title.
People cannot be divided as pro-this or pro-that: our identities are much more complex.
UEL: What has been the audience’s feedback so far in the UK, Bulgaria, and Ukraine?
DG: In Kyiv, the main body of our audience was rather young. Also, we had a few participants of our film come to the viewing, and I have kept in touch with them since then. It felt very special to give voice to the young, as well as seeing people realise that they have been heard through this film. In Bulgaria, people found it very moving as they saw elements of their own reality in the film: there is a shared past of affiliation with, or incorporation by, the Soviet regime; there are sociocultural commonalities between these regions, and inevitably, when talking about identity, one touches upon the past. The Western audiences in general find it very informative, and usually the film seems to increase their interest in Ukraine. There have also been many comments on the beauty of the country. Finally, some people, of course, want answers to big questions, which our documentary, obviously, cannot provide.
UEL: If you had to summarize in few sentences why you think the audience should come and see your film, what would you say?
DG: If you care about peace, Ukraine, Russia, Europe and its people, you should come and see this documentary. For me, it was important to create something which is outside the polarised rhetoric on the either side of the conflict, to raise certain humanitarian issues, to embrace a diversity of opinions, rather than discuss history in a confrontational manner. And, I guess, last but not least, I wanted to create a platform for discussion.