Many documentaries at Sundance tackle interesting characters, living or dead. Some dive deep into long-standing issues such as racism or climate change, possibly on a local or macro level.
There has probably rarely been a documentary like 20 days in Mariupolwhich premiered on Egyptian Friday and documents the war in Ukraine which is still going on daily.
“What you see here is happening right now,” said the documentary’s director, AP journalist Mstyslav Chernov. “It’s not history yet, it’s present.”
The film, from Frontline and AP, is a harrowing look at the start of the Russian invasion and how things gradually got worse for the townspeople. Chernow, along with his colleagues Evgeniy Maloletka and Vasilisa Stepanenko, documents a city under siege while putting their lives in danger. Journalists are struggling to get their work out to the world as the city becomes increasingly isolated. But it’s the locals who suffer the most, and the film kicks the guts as it shows the aftermath of the many shellings and bombings, including maternity wards.
While documentaries like this can be attacked for being “fake,” Chernov tackles the move head-on, not only showing some of the salvoes of the Russian propaganda machine but also, effectively, showing how his reporting made its way to NBC. , CBS, MSNBC and other outlets around the world, legitimizing his work.
After 20 days, the filmmaker and his team came out just in time as the Russians tracked down the PA group that dared to report the truth about the civilian attacks.
It’s an unyielding, hard look that left the packed house in shock, sighing and in tears at the tragedy. The public also gave him a thunderous ovation because it is a testament to the power of the moving image.
Chernov, onstage with his colleagues and producers, cut a grim figure, expressing his guilt for not doing enough or even leaving town in the first place. The day after they left, the drama theater was bombed, and they felt it.
“There was no one filming it, no information collected,” he said. That’s when they realized they had to take their footage and make a feature-length documentary. “These 30 hours, if we work with them, at least we can show the magnitude. What you see in the news is probably a minute [or] 30 seconds. It doesn’t really give you the scale of meaning of people’s suffering, doesn’t go deeper into their stories.
Chernov and his team never stopped reporting from the front lines, and he said he was sometimes asked, after nearly dying in the city, why keep risking his life?
To that, he said, “What we showed you is maybe one percent of what was actually going on. I always feel guilty that I can’t capture it all or show it all… It pushes you to do more.
He gave some details about the day of his escape, which did not make it into the film because it was never filmed. Once word broke that he and his team were being hunted down, doctors at a hospital covered for them, giving them decoy uniforms, hiding their gear.
The morning of their extraction, a team of soldiers rushed to the hospital, demanding that the journalists be handed over to them. Seeing no choice, Chernov basically said, “Here we are” and prepared for the worst. It turned out, however, that the soldiers were Ukrainians.
“They said, ‘We have to extract you, we have orders,'” Chernov recalled.
The war is not over and neither is Chernov. “When Sundance is over, we will go back and continue to work,” he said, adding that maybe after the war, if they have time to think, only then maybe he will start to cope. what he witnessed.
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