The Cinema House was packed for the presentation of the documentary film produced by the VIATEL studio and directed by Vasyl Viter — Bohdan Khmelnytsky from “The Play of Fate” series. It took Viter five years to create the film about one of the most outstanding Ukrainian hetmans. In his work on the film, Viter, the author of the script and production director, was assisted by the executive producer and editor Halyna Kryvorchuk, host Natalka Sopit, production director of photography Heorhii Kryvosheienko. The well-coordinated team has carried out a great research and lived through the lives of the film heroes. As a result, they have managed to perform a historical reconstruction of Khmelnytsky’s times. Therefore, the film Bohdan Khmelnytsky is a true story which breaks through the hypocritical tones and has a thrilling plot and living heroes against the background of the whole panorama of Ukrainian life at the time.
The audience rose to applaud already after the first part of the film. The entire duration of Bohdan Khmelnytsky is 1 hour 52 minutes, like in a full-length live-action film, but the audience watched it all in the same breath.
The way how the capacity crowd perceived the film proved that Ukrainians are looking for Ukrainian things and the truth about things of their own, and they need their own national heroes.
Under the circumstances of constant informational hunger, Ukrainians feel the need for this kind of films, plots, and programs. But Bohdan Khmelnytsky is far from being the first film to be produced by Viter, nor is it the first one in the documentary series “The Play of Fate” broadcast by Channel 5, which is an information partner of the VIATEL studio, along with the daily paper Den/The Day and magazines Mizhnarodny turyzm (International Tourism) and Welcome to Ukraine.
One could hardly expect members of the government and Kyiv’s establishment to visit the launch of the film Bohdan Khmelnytsky, like they did at the presentation of Nikita Mikhalkov’s film Burnt by the Sun-2. A part of our politicians is stuck in the Russian world, orienting at other country’s values and at the same time looking for drawbacks in their own heroes. However, not everyone in the Russian world professes the ruling ideology, and a part of intelligentsia is also reconsidering its history and present. Ukraine also has many intelligent and talented people looking for real sense, creating the national myth and trying to break the stereotypes that had been imposed on them. And those who publicly criticize Mazepa, accuse Shevchenko of alcohol abuse, and doubt Khmelnytsky’s merits are only a marginal part of our society. The Day’s editor in chief Larysa Ivshyna calls the fact that Ukrainians all the time see and hear namely these marginals “a policy of apartheid against the national audience.”
After all, we are speaking not only about the need to value our own things, which are no worse than the foreign ones. People should watch the film Bohdan Khmelnytsky because it is priceless historical experience and lesson at the same time, which was truthfully recreated by the authors with an apt emphasis on life and politics. The creators of the film did not dwell at little things; they have managed to show the life of a person who has feelings and yields to weaknesses and a statesman who wins owing to his virtues and loses due to his mistakes. We should be proud of our heroes’ virtues whereas their mistakes should be a lesson to us.
Unfortunately, there was no politician in the hall who influences the state’s destiny today. Perhaps, this is namely the reason why we experience the same defeats because of the same ill-weighed actions. And one of the most important and actual lessons of Khmelnytsky’s time is that the authorities should not be estranged from their own people and stay in a different dimension, because the country is always brought down by the people who does not understand the actions of its elite.
That is why we invite the politicians and everyone who has not yet seen the film Bohdan Khmelnytsky to come and see Viter’s film. And take warm clothes with you: it may be cold in the hall.
Yurii SOROKA, cinema expert, head of the OUN Secretariat:
“Our society has a peculiar feature which consists in Ukrainians’ extreme need for repeating the biographies of their nation’s great personalities. I don’t think that any person present among the audience, although there were hundreds of people present, had known the life of Bohdan Khmelnytsky perfectly well, the way it was shown in the film. Besides, not only do the Ukrainians fail to know the biographies of their outstanding fellow countrymen; they also tend to forget them frequently. Therefore, biographies should be regularly retold and not only Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s.
“Think about how well the life story has been shown in the film. There is a loving woman near Khmelnytsky, and there is another one he loves: those are true-to-life moments that we can understand. The viewer may recognize himself in this film. Unfortunately, many needful things get lost or are intentionally blocked in our information space. This is a complicated situation, but I think we are gradually riding it out.
“Regarding the work on the film, we have a sort of an ensemble of a cameraman, film director, and the host. The host actually performs several roles in the film: she interprets the idea, plays Helena, and to some extent plays other characters, Khmelnytsky’s relatives. I can say that Vasyl Viter has found his own style in the film. You may or may not like it, but the many-screen movement of pictures is Vasyl Viter’s own style, his own achievement. This method allows the audience to get additional visual information from the screen.
“I cannot but note the brilliant work done by cameraman Heorhii Kryvosheienko. For one could see how phosphorization was applied to the eyes of the characters in the immovable pictures in dramatic moments, which added dynamics and animated the static portraits.
“I would like to emphasize once more that Viter has reached a certain level. Even simple retelling of Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s story deserves gratitude, but he had recreated it in a thorough way. I am sure that even experts will find unique information in the film. Furthermore, it does not happen often when documentary ends with a moment of catharsis.”
“This is an extremely important thing which should be shown also in educational establishments. For this film was the first to put important political accents on many events of the time of Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s war and showed in a proper way both the political situation and the economy of the time, as well as the spiritual state of Bohdan and his closest surrounding, his relationships with women and comrades-in-arms. And this is the very thing which enables the audience to understand the film. It should be broadcast on television many times in order to prompt multiple reconsideration of its content, because for centuries they have fretted our lives out, and now at length we should listen to the truth.”
Oleksandr MAZUR, otaman of the Free Cossacks:
“The authors have managed to avoid the dry expression ‘a documentary film,’ instead presenting the facts in an artistic manner and showing human feelings. For we have seen on the screen living people with their emotions, the right for love, and the right to be wrong, although there was no live action. I think that the authors have succeeded in bringing us, the audience, to that very epoch. For only those who lived in that time could assess the deeds of Khmelnytsky, Kryvonis, and Bohun; this cannot be done from the present-day positions. A very apt conclusion to the presentation was made by The Day’s editor in chief Larysa Ivshyna, who said that if present-day statesmen have watched the film and experienced it, they would perhaps have avoided many mistakes of today.”
Vasyl VITER, director of the film Bohdan Khmelnytsky:
“Frankly, I did not expect that the film would meet such a warm welcome of the audience; I expected a calmer perception. It made the audience laugh or applaud at moments we did not expect. It was then that I saw that the audience was already dragged into the story and felt compassionate for our heroes, the special style of the film notwithstanding. This is the most important thing, because when the audience feels compassionate for the hero, we can say that the film is needed and it will have a life.
“I would have written on a piece of paper what I had found in Bohdan Khmelnytsky if I hadn’t had an opportunity to make a film. Since I have the opportunity to shoot films, we have told the story in this way. But this is my reason, the reason of a film director who wants to tell this story. But as a director, I should feel the audience, anticipate it. Any normal film director should not impose his/her vision on the audience, s/he should understand what people need at the moment, but not be following the audience at the same time. There should be a balance here, because the mission of cinematography is, in my opinion, to tell the audience the stories that would support them in life. Life is hard under any circumstances. And watching films or reading books should make people stronger; people should thus be growing and overcoming their weaknesses.
“One cannot exclude the fact that Ukrainians, tired of the repertoire of the traditional television, feel the need for this kind of stories. Working on the ‘Play of Fate’ series, I saw that a truthful story of a person is most interesting. The problem is simply that we usually receive these stories as in stereotypical, hackneyed formats. For example, for an unknown reason a hero should as a rule be deprived of any manifestations of usual human weaknesses, but in reality we have a human life, and it should come to sight. Alternatively, attention is sometimes focused only on dirty linen. This is also a mistaken approach, as art exists precisely in order to boost people’s spirit. Moreover, the people’s life today is far from being easy, so they should really be juiced up. And, incidentally, speaking about the audience’s reaction, it seems to me it had this spirit.”
Stanislav CHERNILEVSKY, poet, film director:
“Personally for me, the launch of the film Bohdan Khmelnytsky is an event I have long been waiting for, because we are finally able to see Bohdan Khmelnytsky through the prism of his life. And the authors of the film accomplished this in an extremely organic way, without tension and unnecessary radicalism. The film Bohdan Khmelnytsky is a breakthrough in a sense of history making. For it is shining proof that history is made by the actions of people whose names might remain unknown or not remembered; it is made by numerous decisions and actions, drop by drop. And if people act improperly, this will result in a catastrophe several decades later.
“The host’s voice keeps the audience in the space of trust, not excessive emotionality, it is telling trustfully of a person’s private story which turns out a non-private one.
“I would like to note one more important thing. Vasyl Viter was a student of Andrii Merzlikin, who in his turn was a student of Mykhailo Verkhatsky, and Mykhailo Verkhatsky was a student of Les Kurbas. So, we have seen four generations of continuous cultural heritage, which is not transferred via books, but only through direct living communication.
“I felt a burst of joy. I guess for many people this will become a stimulus for consistent work which should be constantly performed by those people who care about Ukraine’s past, present, and future.”
The Day’s Fact file
Vasyl Viter, a scriptwriter, film director, and merited worker of arts, was born in the village Velykopolovetske, Kyiv oblast. He graduated from the Kyiv-based Karpenko-Kary Institute of Theatrical Arts with two different majors: drama actor (1972) and cinema and television director (1981). Viter was taught by Mykhailo Verkhatsky, Les Kurbas’ student, Ukrainian film director, pedagogue, and theater expert. Viter has worked as an actor in Zhytomyr and Volyn music and drama theaters, and the Oleksandr Dovzhenko Film Studio.
He has worked at the Ukrtelefilm Film Studio since 1982 where he shot live-action films, such as Klarnety nizhnosti (Clarinets of Tenderness), Dyktatura (Dictatorship), Dali poliotu strily (Farther Than the Arrow Goes), etc., and documentaries, such as Pidzemni vody (Underground Waters), Tsvit paporoti (Fern Blossom), Ivan Mykolaichuk. Tryzna (Ivan Mykolaichuk. Funeral Feast), Hlyboky kolodiaz (Deep Well) etc. He was among the first USSR directors who started to shoot live action with a video camera (U luzi na staromu dyvani (On an Old Sofa in the Meadow), a screened version of Yevhen Hutsalo’s short story). In 1994, he founded his own film studio, VIATEL, where he shot such films as Vidrodzhennia. Natsionalna filarmonia (Renaissance. National Philharmonic Society), Uspensky sobor (Assumption Cathedral), Mykhailivsky Zolotoverkhy (St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral), and others.