Your last year's film Kalinovski Square is very different from the rank of human rights reportages about the last dictatorship in Europe. It is more like an absurd drama with several acts, viewed from a distance. How did you choose your narrative perspective?
When I begin work on a documentary film, I really follow the story. In every dramatic work - and documentary film is also a drama, whether it is the drama of a report, of a documentary, or events - there has to be a story. Once I understood that the story revolves around the lives of the people standing at the square and the events taking place there, everything fell into place. There are digressions, sometimes I go back to some things prior to the story, but I always return to the square. This creates the sense that it's not a mere report but a work of art. In all of my films I try to find a story regardless of the fact that I'm making a documentary film.
In addition to the ideological background of Belarus and the policies enforced by the administration, the film conveys yet another kind of message. The scene in which the riot troops, right after dispersing the protests and arresting regime opponents, dig through the remains of tents, cookers and instant soup to pick whatever's still usable is, in my opinion, exactly the type of message that resonates strongly in our region. The awkward and sticky foundation of the whole social system...
That's a great insight. I also think that the scene is very important. It was necessary to compare not the political stance of the people or the political demands of this or that side, these are always debatable... I wanted to compare these people on a moral level, to see to what extent their moral standards correspond to a general human morality that forbids theft or sabotage. And when I see that people who become tools of political power are basically saboteurs, I no longer try to question their politics, I oppose them on moral and ethical grounds.You're right then, the scene is so important in the film because it helps us understand what kind of people we're facing, what kind of people the best of our youth have to face. They're showing so much courage, standing at the square, not reacting to insults, brutality, punches, scuffles or provocation - that's one side. On the other side we have a drunken, amoral and brutish bunch. The nature of their behaviour and their morality are the products of Soviet morality: the morality of enslavement, vulgarity and impoverishment. (Photo: Kalinovski Square)
Judging by the existing synopsis of your current project Probes, you're pushing the boundary of political film still closer to an essay. The idea is no longer based on a specific event (as was the case with the protests at Kalinovski Square) but remains general, revolving around questions about our tendency or weakness to take on various roles, whether it's an executioner or a victim, to stand by as dictatorships are born and to focus on mere survival. Will the film keep this general theme even during the shoot or will you connect it with more specific events?
Everywhere, in every country, power is based on the fact that, since childhood, people are pushed into playing given roles, and the system eventually uses our compliance and obedience. When you're drafted into the army and sent off to fight and kill, you have to kill, you basically have to deliver the punishment and become the executioner. If, for instance, we are arrested, imprisoned or about to be executed - that's the situation we've had to live in for some sixty five years and it's still the reality in some countries - we accept the passive roles of victims. And that's monstrous. I believe that people have to stand up to the dictate of roles. Of course, we all have certain roles in our lives. But we have to be able to script the roles for ourselves. Viewed from the perspective of classic dramaturgy, everybody's life seems like a tragedy because just like any tragedy, every life inevitably ends with the death of the protagonist... Yet we have the power to alter the flavour of the tragedy. Probes will naturally have a broader theme than Kalinovski Square but the creative principle remains the same. There's always a slightly ironic perspective because we have to learn to see the dumb things that we ourselves sometimes do, we have to see our own simplicity. I have often been wrong and trapped in certain myths. We have to try erasing from our mindset as many myths as possible because only then can we be free. It's one reason for shooting this film. Of course I'll be using a lot of archive material - from the invention of photography to the present.
Probes also isn't focused entirely on Belarus. You mention the Babi Yar events in Kiev 1941 as well as dictatorships in other countries. You were born in Odessa, your mother was Russian and your father was Jewish. What is your relationship to Russia, Belarus and Ukraine?
My attitude to people and to power are two separate things. Each works on a completely different level. For instance, I don't like Russian power - uncultured, inhuman and imperial. At the same time, I greatly admire Russian culture and art and I have a lot of Russian friends and soulmates. Russians are immensely talented people. They're not as disciplined and organized as, for example, Germans, but they are always really successful in defending their country, always and at any time. But the drawback is that in Russia there is a huge difference between the Russian European culture and the Asiatic tyrannical and imperialist state power. That's the core of Russia's unresolvable problem - the clash of two civilizations - culture vs. tyranny. As far as Ukrainians are concerned, I love them even if they're peculiar. I was born in Odessa, Ukraine. I've always thought of Ukraine as my home country, I love and I'm familiar with Ukrainian culture, language and literature. By the way, Ukrainian literature is very strong. Regardless of the chaos that we see in Ukraine today, I believe that it's going to turn for the better because Ukrainians as a nation have one typical feature - they're able to decide about their country for themselves. But back to the subject of the film; roles are imposed on all of us. That's why my film goes beyond the context of Belarus, Russia or Ukraine. It will be a film about our civilization, about governments, manipulation and roles that are imposed from without. (Photo: Probes)
Considering your position, you have to seek funding for your films outside Belarus. Kalinovski Square was produced in Estonia. How will you go about funding you new projects?
I really have to look for funding outside the Belarusian borders. My name has been removed from the catalogue of filmmakers. Director Yuri Khaschevatsky simply does not exist in Belarus. Officially. In today's Belarus the colonels are the most successful directors. International broadcasters and film funds are our only option.
There is a poster for Miroslaw Dembinski's A Lesson of Belarussian at the headquarters of the opposition Belarussian National Front. What kind of audiences get to see this film or Kalinovski Square in Belarus? Are copies of the films circulating among people?
These films reach audiences only thanks to videopiracy and the internet. I would like to thank Polish director Miroslaw Dembinski for making Belarus the subject of his film. People were very active in downloading Kalinovski Square and it was also distributed a lot by pirates. In my humble estimate, several tens of thousands of copies might have been distributed. Other estimates say that the figure reaches almost 200.000. It must be added that distribution via the internet and DVD is more effective than broadcasting because there's still the element of curiosity. The ban of my film by the Belarusian administration greatly boosted its promotion. People have retained their dissident customs and a positive attitude to anything that is banned. Belarusians have an increased interest for all things banned by the state power. And it was apparent in the popularity of An Ordinary President or Kalinovski Square. (Photo: Poster - A Lesson of Belarusian)
There's a short polemic available on You Tube that you had with Lukashenko about Hitler and homeland. Do you see strong potential for this kind of media?
I'm deeply convinced that it's absolutely necessary to discuss this subject in the media. The bottom line is that it's not some obscure fascist or neonazi fanatic admiring Hitler but the head of a European country! If it's a commander in chief who's in charge of a strong army equipped with state-or-the-art weapons and becomes Hitler's admirer, well, we know how these things usually end. We can't bury our heads in the sand. And everyone who is in one way or another involved with Lukashenko must realize that they're dealing with a Hitler fan.
Uladzimir Kolas and Miroslaw Dembinski will also present their projects at this year's East European Forum. Are you in contact with each other or do you work on entirely separate planes?
We each work independently. But we always follow each other's work, we know what the others are working on at the moment. Our creative plans are part of a single plan that aims to restore Belarusian culture that is part of Europe. Our effort is to return the country back to a normal, civilized political life as well as social and economic life. I'm always ready to help them and I try to help wherever I can. I've no doubts that they think and feel the same as me.
Hana Rezková // Yuri Khashchevatsky
Yuri Khashchevatsky was born in 1947 in Odessa, Ukraine. Since 1976, he has worked as a director in Minsk. In 1984 he made his debut with Quiet Life in Glubokiy (Grand Prize at Kiev All-Union Film Festival). Since then, he has directed 23 films, both features and documentaries. Credits include: Kyojyov Was Here (1987), Opposite Action (1989), Russian Happiness (1992), Everything's Good (1996), An Ordinary President (1996), Gods of Hammer and Sickle (2000), Prisoners of the Caucasus (2002), You Will Vote for Me! (2006), Kalinovski Square (2007). One of the leading figures in Belarusian dissent, member of Charter 97. His documentary films received numerous awards at international festivals, e.g. in Kiev, St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, Munich, San Francisco, Geneva and others.
Director: Yuriy Khashchevatskiy
Producer: Volha Nikalaichyk
Probes is a social-political documentary film that raises questions about the roles we play in history and about the conditions that make it possible to overlook the onset of authoritarian regimes and live in them for years. What is our place in history and what roles do we (un)conciously take on ourselves? The film follows the victims, executioners as well as the disinterested observers.
The project aroused a lot of interest among the commissioning editors; Yuri Khashchevatsky will continue negotiations with Jenny Westergard from Finnish YLE and Franz Grabner from Austria's ORF. Click here for the complete results of the EEF pitch sessions.
Trailers for all EEF projects will soon be available online.
For all projects that were pitched at this year's East Europen Forum, please click here...