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Turning a Lens on EuroMaidan

A filmmakers collective crowd funds an effort to video Ukraine’s protest movement for the wider world.

by Aliona Kachkan 29 January 2014

Babylon’13, a group of Ukrainian cinematographers, has launched a project to produce short documentaries about the EuroMaidan protest movement in their country. Their aim is to subtitle all the material into English, making it accessible to a wider audience. They are wrapping up a crowd-funding campaign to support their efforts. In a recent interview, a Babylon’13 founder, Volodymyr Tykhyi, said in addition to typical filmmaking costs, the group needs funds for protective gear, such as helmets, and to repair equipment damaged in violent confrontations. They will also be helping to support a camera operator who lived on the central protest square for several weeks.

 

TOL: Tell us about your initiative. Who created the platform? How many people are involved? What is your main goal? 

 

After the brutal dispersal of the peaceful EuroMaidan protesters by the riot police on the night of 30 November, the next morning people started gathering … to express their outrage. I talked with some friends who are film, audio, and video producers about ways to help the EuroMaidan. We realized that we could that by doing our jobs – making films. … We wanted to show the main thing about the protest: that people had woken up and that it is the start of civil society. That was the only aim. Immediately we began to shoot the first video, Prologue. It’s a video interview with people who came to Mykhailivska square [to support and protect students who had entered an adjacent church to escape the riot police – ed.] no matter what might happen. The atmosphere was amazing. There were nearly 50,000 people. There was a feeling of excitement about being able to come together and do something. …

 

From the very beginning Babylon’13 consisted of seven or eight people. Overall, around 40 people are involved in Babylon’13’s production process. … It’s a civil initiative that has its pros and cons at the same time. On the one hand, everything is honest and done for free. On the other hand, the protests have been going on for two months and it’s impossible to devote ourselves only to those events. Our team is quite international. Though most are, obviously, Ukrainians, we have people who came from Russia and Poland as well.

 

 

We have already made almost 60 films. We try to not to use banal material as we’re not trying to inform people, but to reflect on what is happening. We are sharing our personal, emotional experience with people and helping them to realize and go through those things. We present ourselves as a mouthpiece trying to translate these events in contemporary Ukrainian culture.

 

Six students from the National University of Cinema, Theater, and TV have been arrested. Similarly, civil activists and journalists have been targeted by police. Can you tell us more about these cases?

 

People with cameras are the main enemy of the authorities. They have a kind of disgust for people who shoot something and post it on the Internet. People are socializing through social networks. … People who show the real face of what is happening are the main impetus of this social communication. It’s one thing to write and read that some people were beaten, but another to show and see the video of it. Such a weapon is much stronger than a Molotov cocktail, in my opinion.

 

As for the students, the riot police claim they saw them making Molotov cocktails and throwing them at the police. However, no such evidence was provided during the court hearings. I think there was just an order to catch the students in order to scare other students and their parents. The director of the Institute of Television, Vasyl Viter, claimed correctly during a press-conference that “They want to make us afraid again through our children.” And that was confirmed immediately by offers from [President Viktor] Yanukovych to release the protesters if people leave the streets. So those students are hostages. ...

 

For Yanukovych to have hostages, to pay some people to come to demonstrations to support him, and to orchestrate terror in the streets is a strategic step. It is well-known that the president doesn’t use the Internet, that he reads print media. He lives in an information vacuum and in a fantasy world where all these strategies make sense. It’s frightening that that kind of person can be the head of state.

 

By the way, we posted on YouTube a film made by two arrested students. One student received two months in jail, another one got two months of home detention. Moreover, a judge who gave home detention to four arrested students was forced to resign.

 

Have you received any threats from the police or other authorities?

 

I’m involved in the film anthology project, Vidkrytyi Dostup (Open Access). In one film, Mezhyhirya, together with journalists Mustafa Nayem and Serhiy Leshchenko, we investigated the story behind Yanukovych’s Mezhyhirya. [A palatial estate that once belonged to the government but was bought by Yanukovych for an undisclosed price through what an expose by Leshchenko says is a series of offshore companies. – ed.]

 

This project is one of the most resonant ones presented in the regions of Ukraine by a civil society organization called New Citizen. It’s only now that can we show it normally. Before, the authorities limited where we could show it. Sometimes city authorities officially denied permission to screen it. Sometimes the light was cut in the places we were showing the film or a  poison gas was spread in the hall so that it was impossible to continue watching it [according to an account on the project’s website, “an unknown man” spilt a strong-smelling, unidentified substance in the hall, prompting its evacuation – ed.].  At a screening in Kyiv, 30 homeless drunk people with press passes from [the non-existent] Bomzh TV [Vagrant TV] came in and started making a mess. In addition, a special commission to try to prevent Mezhyhirya from screening has been created in the president’s administration.

 

This terror is entirely formulaic. Why does this system come to power? Because it is absolutely based on money. … They have no interest in terrorizing Babylon’13 or the anthology project. … They don’t care about power, to be honest. They do something only if it personally benefits them. Thus, all these threats are only phantom rumors. I understand the psychology and the motivation of these authorities. What can they take from us? Several old computers. … They’re not interested in that.

 

What is the main trigger for the growth of the protests? Do you think the violence can be used for good?

 

Violence is bad. Violence generates violence. … This is an important moment happening right now when physical violence doesn’t play the same role it played 10 years ago in Ukraine. The arena of conflict is now a completely different place, the media. Violence only plays a role and provokes a part of society that lives in an information vacuum. Then they go to the streets because they see how awful the situation is. Though it’s rather primitive, that’s what they understand. The fact that they earn 2,000 hryvnias (around $230), don’t take bribes, and live below the cultural standards doesn’t move them to go on the street and protest. But the violence used by the authorities, which they see in the media and on the Internet, does. In fact, the violence of the authorities, illegal actions of the government, corrupt courts, torture – are quite simply things that have always happened. The system is the way it is. But because of the concentration of this information these things have come out.

 

Society has started to protest after years of such violence. The resistance to this violence is the strongest and the most important thing. People’s aggression caused by the aggression of the authorities is short-term, and alone it couldn’t have kept people on the streets for such a long time.

 

How do you see the further development of the EuroMaidan movement ?

 

The people are resolved. They don’t want to change the faces, they want to change the system. They want to change the mindset of everything about the country – the system, the constitution, and the people. … I’m afraid all the tension and anger in the police forces won’t disappear without some catharsis. On the other hand, it’s not the 1990s when there was a total deadlock. Today the sanctity of the concept of power is collapsed – it’s not a totalitarian society. [A police officer] understands that if he shoots, he will be destroyed by the people. He will not stop 20 people with his gun. And even if he runs away, people will catch him and he will be held responsible. They understand clearly that this is the end. Their bosses will not protect them.

 

The dissolution of the regime will start soon. It will produce panic in their ranks. When they try to sell their businesses or transfer money to other places we’ll know that it has started. People in power will start to run away because they will understand they will not be forgiven.

 

If you could say one thing to a foreign audience about the Ukrainian protests, what would it be?

 

The events happening in Ukraine now are not a fight of one part of Ukraine against another. It’s not a struggle of the opposition against the authorities. I have realized that this is a social and cultural revolution. This is the transformation of the general world view of Ukrainian society. We can call it by a poetic name, like the birth of the nation. That is really what is happening right now. That is the main victory. And all those other things taking place right now, such as barricades, are more interesting of course, but are secondary. That is what people in Europe should understand. A completely different country is appearing on the map.

Aliona Kachkan is a TOL editorial intern.

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