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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

The names of memory: the Holocaust and the Holodomor

One of the best Ukrainian documentary films hitting the screens soon
13 February, 2007 - 00:00

Serhii Bukovsky’s film Say Your Name, whose premiere in October 2006 was one of the most important cinema events of the season, will now be seen by the public at large. The film will be screened at Kyiv’s Butterfly-Ultramaryn and Zhovten cinemas starting from Feb. 15. Afterwards it will be shown in Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, Odesa, Chernivtsi, and Kolomyia.

This was announced at a press conference, where journalists’ questions were answered by the film’s producers and director, representatives of the Shoah Foundation founded by Steven Spielberg, the foundation headed by Viktor Pinchuk, who was the co-producer of the project, and historians.

Say Your Name is a rare case when a work of art elicits both an artistic and social response. This is the first Ukrainian full-length documentary film made in the last year. Spielberg, who is the film’s nominal producer, plays the role of an archivist. The film is based on interviews of eyewitnesses to the Holocaust in Ukraine. Their testimonies were recorded in 1994-98 by associates of the Institute of Video History and Education of the Shoah Foundation (University of Southern California).

The topic of the Holocaust in Ukraine is practically synonymous with Babyn Yar. However, the director succeeded in going beyond this pre-determined topic to create an impressive artistic and philosophical canvas about man in the large and not always merciful panorama of history, and about the value of each history in particular. The main thrust of the film is about the space that could be common to all of us because part of it is Babyn Yar. This is the way mankind survives its biggest catastrophes by marking them on the large map of common memory.

The Shoah Foundation collects video testimonies about the Holocaust all over the world and organizes programs on tolerance. This year in Ukraine, besides the film screening, a special reference work will be published in September, and seminars will be conducted for teachers 25 in each oblast. According to Oleksandr Voitenko, the head of Nova doba, the history teachers association, a request to officials to help introduce this book into the school curriculum has already been drawn up.

The book is structured in the form of modules that can be used as part of regular class work or as separate lessons. In any case, this goes far beyond the coercive-barrack system of education that is traditional in our country. The film and the testimonies, which are not included in the book, may be used as illustrations to these lessons.

According to a representative of the American side, Say Your Name was screened on Feb. 1 for United Nations employees in New York City. Negotiations are now underway with the organizers of the film festival in the Swiss city of Nyon, which is considered the most important gathering of documentary filmmakers, and with the Cannes Film Festival about including the film in the most prestigious program, Critic’s Week.

Bukovsky announced that he is working on a two-part feature film for television, which the director admits is a relief after working with such difficult material. He has invited the well- known Ukrainian actor Serhii Romaniuk, who Bukovsky thinks is underestimated by Ukrainian cinematographers, to play the lead role.

During the October premiere of Say Your Name Viktor Pinchuk said that it is necessary to create such films about another great catastrophe in Ukraine, the Holodomor, and unexpectedly this idea is being developed. According to Pinchuk’s spokesman, the process of collecting video testimonies of people who lived through the famine of the 1930s is nearing completion.

By Dmytro DESIATERYK, The Day