Ukrainian Program: At the Movies
In the 2015–2016 academic year, the Slavic Department’s Ukrainian program events were headlined by the screening of four celebrated Ukrainian films: Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965) by Sergei Paradzhanov; two internationally recognized and awarded films, The Tribe (2014) by Myroslav Slaboshpytsky and Winter of Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (2015); and an animated adaptation of Ivan Kotliyarevsky’s Eneyida (1991).
All four films are from different times and genres, but each of these symbolic films has critical significance for understanding Ukraine’s national history and the culture of its people, as well as the reality of life in contemporary Ukraine. By depicting Ukrainian Hutsul culture, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors has introduced a new style of poetic cinema. Today, in light of the new narrative of Ukrainian history, the film opens a fresh avenue of research on Hutsuls as part of the broader Rusyn ethnic minority in Ukraine.
Before the screening, students in the second-year Ukrainian language course read passages from the original novel by Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky and later wrote essays about the magic of Carpathians, reality of Hutsul life, and symbolical and metaphorical dimensions ingrained in their folk culture. Currently, an internship in the film museum in the village of Kryvorivnia, the film’s production site, is available for interested students.
In October 2015, the Slavic Department funded a student visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts for a screening of the Ukrainian film The Tribe (Plemya), winner of multiple awards at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. The Wall Street Journal describes the “anxious confusion” this film generates, because it is produced entirely in Sign Language and contains no subtitles or translations: “...it’s as if we were profoundly deaf, trying to understand what’s going on and trying to break out of isolation.” The film is not easy to watch, but students were pleased to have the opportunity to see an award-winning film from Ukraine on the big screen and the chance to interact with the community about this work. “Even though the film was challenging to watch, it has proved to be a significant contribution to the international film scene,” one of the students mentioned.
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, an Oscar-nominated Netflix documentay, was screened in February 2016. It commemorated the Heavenly Hundred Heroes, protesters who were killed during the Maidan upheavals of late 2013–early 2014 in Kyiv by riot police controlled by Ukraine’s President at that time, Viktor Yanukovych.
The last Ukrainian film screened this year was a Ukrainian literary adaptation of Ivan Kotliyarevsky’s Eneyida in March. It was part of SLAVANIME, the second Slavic Animated Festival hosted by the department. Studies show that people see animation as an art form—more than just an entertaining cartoon. Literary animated adaptations from Croatia, Russia, Poland, Czech Republic, and Ukraine shown as part of this event brought together a diverse community of viewers. Each screening included introductions of the animated films from Slavic Department faculty members which inspired lively discussions in the audience. Next academic year, this exciting experience with diverse Slavic animation culture will be developed into a new mini-course.
Many formal and informal lectures, round tables, and conversations on present-day Ukraine were organized at U-M during the 2015–16 academic year. Next year, a course on Ukrainian poetry as well as three levels of Ukrainian language courses will allow the department to continue to educate students about current developments and cultural moments in Ukraine.