"Not a single staged shot": director and the Hospitallers member Yevhen Titarenko about his film
The documentary ‘Shidniy Front’ (Eastern Front) about the war in Ukraine was included in the program of this year's Berlin Film Festival. It was presented at the Berlinale on February 24, coinciding with Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and is the only Ukrainian film competing in the festival's two main categories. The movie was directed by Vitaly Manskyi, a Ukrainian-born director now living in Latvia, and Yevhen Titarenko from Ukraine.
Evgeny Titarenko is known as a director for his films "War for Peace", "Dnipro - an outpost of Ukraine", "Evacuation", and "Cossack songs. UNESCO’s heritage". Since 2014, Titarenko has also been a volunteer of the Hospitallers medical unit - he works as a paramedic-driver.
About the documentary
- How did the idea for this film come about? Is it yours or your co-director Vitaly Mansky?
- Filming began on February 24, 2022, when the first bombs fell. Next, I filmed in those areas where I participated in the medical evacuation of the wounded as a driver and paramedic - these are the Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Kherson campaigns. At some stage, when a lot had already been filmed, producer Natalia Khazan contacted Vitaly Mansky and offered to make a film together.
I was deeply immersed in the subject while working on the front, so I needed a co-director who was somewhat detached from the process. I am very glad that Vitaly and I “met” like this and created this film together.
For me, this is the first experience of co-directing, as well as for Vitaly. Of course, many people helped us.
The film answers many questions that may still be unclear to a foreign audience - how did it happen that Ukraine did not lose the war in three days
- How was it filmed? What stories were on the set?
- I filmed a part about the war, and Vitaly was directing what was filmed in safer places. The shooting took place in Ukraine. My part of the documentary included medical evacuations and everything I saw with my own eyes.
The film shows five companions coming on the home front to celebrate the baptism of the son of one of them. Through them, the audience sees events both in the war and on the home front. The film answers many questions that may still be unclear to a foreign viewer - how did it happen that Ukraine did not lose in three days, did not surrender, but resisted and did it quite successfully? It also shows our Ukrainian identity.
- Who are these five people, the heroes of the film?
- They are my comrades from my unit, who I worked with during medical evacuations. They represent a diverse section of society, including a businessman, a cook, a truck driver, and a doctor. The fifth is me.
"Subota", "Holova", "Miller", "Supchyk" and I - "Rezhik" (film director). This is my call sign. The youngest of them is 25 years old, and the oldest, that is me, is 34.
- What was the most difficult part of filming?
- Filming was carried out right during the campaigns. We used the video from camcorders, GoPro body cameras, and mobile phones. The film is 98 minutes long, but we shot more. Hundreds of hours of shooting. And not a single stage shot.
- Was it filmed under fire?
- Well, yes...This is a war. There was shelling, there were other difficult moments. Everything is absolutely real.
The film is 98 minutes long, but we shot more. Hundreds of hours of shooting. And not a single stage shot.
The key message
- I cannot name one specific message. Each viewer will have their own emotions because each viewer has their own perspective. However, I believe the main idea is that in recent history,, Ukrainians have never attacked anyone, we do not want to fight, but we must, we have no other choice. This is our home, and we will defend it. The film shows why we did not give up.
While world leaders debate about providing us with equipment... I think it's simple: if we, Ukrainians, run out of resources, they will no longer have to think about whether to provide us with airplanes; they will have to put their children on these airplanes and send them to the war zone. The Russian Federation will definitely reach their homes if Ukraine loses.
- But the movie is about the fact that we won't end?
- Yes, we aren't and won't end. Despite the daily losses.
- Where are you now? Are you doing medical evacuations?
- I'm still with Hospitallers but not involved in medical evacuations; I'm busy with other issues. I'm in the lines of the information front, which is crucial for Ukraine.
When we started editing the movie, of course, I was no longer in the war zone. We were editing a single movie and did it with Mansky offline. Color correction and sound mixing – we did all these steps together. Our movie partners are Latvia, the Czech Republic, and the United States. The editing occurred in Latvia. The sound mixing and color correction occurred in the Czech Republic.
Berlinale is a prominent worldwide festival, and our movie's participation in the competition program is valuable for Ukraine. Besides, the festival is a platform where you can communicate with people who care about Ukraine and who can change something. The world premiere is on February 24.
- Could you have thought your movie would compete for the Golden Bear a year ago?
- A year ago, I didn't think anything like that. I managed to film something, but some shootings went wrong. I realized I had to film, record, and something might work out.
- How did you find out that the film was selected for participation? Were you happy?
- The fact that the film was selected was a delightful moment for me. I received a letter in the mail. We didn't tell anyone about it because the organizers should be the first to announce it. But I didn't have that "wow" feeling. Instead, I felt food. There was no emotional outburst.
What helps you not to burn out during the war?
- While working on the movie, I was no longer in the war zone. But I have friends there and try to help them as much as possible. There are super-tasks. Each of us has them, apart from just getting up in the morning and doing something. Burnout or not, we have no other home, no other option…
- What are your creative plans? What will happen after the festival?
- The process with the movie will be over. After Berlinale, there will be other festivals, then the movie's release, including in Ukraine.
Of course, I have ideas for new projects. Right now, I can only say that the next movie will also be a documentary. Documentary films can immerse viewers in reality, make them feel what is happening, and answer many questions. This is the movie's mission, which is essential now, during the war.
- So you're not going to give up documentary filmmaking?
- I have never been so definite. There may be fiction films someday. But now is the time for documentaries.
- Maybe we'll see you at the Oscars?
- Anything can happen. The longer we live, the more we will see and do. That's why we have to live.
The ‘Shidniy Front’ (Eastern Front) was filmed from February 24, 2022, to September 2022. The main characters are Ukrainians who went to defend their country. The movie was co-directed by Yevhen Titarenko, a member of the Hospitallers voluntary organization who filmed unique footage of the war in Bucha, Irpin, Gostomel, Kharkiv, and Kherson while rescuing the wounded, and Vitaliy Mansky, a world-renowned documentary director who captured footage in the Ivano-Frankivsk region.
The film was produced by the Ukrainian production company Braha and funded by the governments of Latvia, the Czech Republic, and the United States for post-production.
The premiere took place on February 24 at the 73rd Berlin Film Festival. The film was also nominated for Best Documentary at the Berlinale. #Hospitallers #Paramedics #UkraineParamedics #HospitallersUkraine #HospitallersUK #HelpHospitallers #Ukraine #SupportUkraine #HelpUkraine #StandWithUkraine #HelpUkraineNow