“Stories that need to be told”: Elwira Niewiera and Piotr Rosołowski on Ukrainian documentary Hamlet syndrome | Director’s magazine

“Stories that need to be told”: Elwira Niewiera and Piotr Rosołowski on Ukrainian documentary Hamlet syndrome |  Director's magazine

Elwira Niewiera and Piotr Rosołowski Hamlet syndrome

One of the more unusual projects to star this year’s DOC NYC (also screened concurrently at IDFA in the Best of Fests section), Elwira Niewiera and Piotr Rosołowski Hamlet syndrome follows five young men and women as they develop an experimental play based on Shakespeare’s tragedy, as well as their own. The quintet asking “to be or not to be” is made up of all the Ukrainians who were involved, to varying degrees, in the war launched by Russia in 2014. .)

Soldiers Slavik and Katya, along with paramedic Roman, all saw direct conflict. Meanwhile, Rodion, a fashion designer from Donbas, and Oxana, who is conflicted about her acting opportunities abroad, bear their individual psychological scars. In fact, even the last two seem to be fighting personal wars internally. After fleeing his homophobic hometown, Rodion now finds himself increasingly fed up with cosmopolitan liberals, who collectively celebrate the queer community as heroes. “Make this a country where we don’t have to be heroes!” he rages in a powerful monologue. Similarly, Oxana seems to resent the superficial groupthink, stifled by the nationalism that war inevitably inspires. “There is no freedom, only responsibility,” she laments. What definition of freedom are these patriotic gamers actually fighting for?

To learn all about shooting an existential drama in the midst of a simmering war, Movie director contacted the Polish director duo (2017’s The Prince and the Dybbuk2014 Domino effect)—one of which was selected for the Creative Culture Artist-in-Residence at the Jacob Burns Film Center—just ahead of their film’s Nov. 12 debut in DOC NYC (and IDFA).

Movie director: How was this project born? Did everyone always agree or did you have to slowly build trust with your characters?

Rosolowski: It was clear from the start that we didn’t want to make a journalistic film. We didn’t want to record interviews with our protagonists in which they would talk about their experiences during the [Maidan] revolution and war in Donbass. Therefore, we took up the challenge of creating a stage show based on elements of Hamlet, in which the participants were able to face the traumatic events of the last few years. We started the stage show to watch the rehearsal process on camera.

niewiera: The casting process took nearly two years. We met about 80 young, socially active people who formed volunteer battalions, organized humanitarian aid or were forced to flee Donbas. Many of them have gone through the hell of war, dealing with trauma and trying to find their place in life.

At that stage of the film’s development, we already knew that we wanted our characters to participate in the film and act. We wanted to create a situation where our characters, on a theater stage, could go through a process of reflecting on what they had been through over the last few years. However, many of the people we met were not emotionally ready for such a task. It took a long time to find a team that had undergone therapy and could go back to their wartime experiences on stage. All of our characters had different motivations for participating in the film and comedy. However, all of them, without exception, wanted the world to know what they experienced during the war as soldiers they never wanted to be!

Movie director: In addition to filming rehearsals for the show, you also immerse yourself in the real life of the actors. What borders have been set? Considering you’re shooting with people who are experienced at playing in front of an audience, was that a challenge?

niewiera: Not all of our protagonists are professional actors. Only Oxana and Roman had experience of acting on a theater stage for an audience. However, I want to emphasize this Hamlet syndrome it’s not a film about acting or performance; this has never been our goal. The intense rehearsals encourage our protagonists to face past and present traumas head-on, digging deep into wounds that hadn’t yet fully healed to create truth narratives out of their pain. In this case, the stage is just a neutral ground for personal showdown. Hence, we have not set any limits. We wanted to follow the intimate process of revealing trauma in the theater with the camera, and also behind the scenes in their private life.

Rosolowski: Our goal was to name the marks war leaves on people and how difficult it is to get back to normal afterwards. Learning to deal with trauma is often survival; it takes a lot of energy to stand up and carry on with life. In this context, the only limits set by our protagonists were how far they were ready to delve into their memories. It’s also worth mentioning that all of the actors underwent therapy prior to their involvement in the show and film.

Movie director: How involved were the crew in the actual filmmaking process? Was Hamlet syndrome co-developed like the game itself?

niewiera: We started the creation of the show and its framework, but it was clear from the very beginning that the stage play and the documentary film would eventually become two separate projects. We built a trusting relationship with our leads long before we hit the stage with the camera in rehearsals. Thanks to this, we were able to make such an intimate and emotional film.

Rosolowski: On the other hand, the troupe was very involved in the creative process of the stage show H effect by Rosa Sarkisian. The script was created during rehearsals based on the stories shared by our protagonists. They are all listed in the credits as co-writers of the play.

Movie director: You shot Hamlet syndrome just months before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and now all of your protagonists are back to fighting in various guises once again. Has this tragic new reality changed the way you and/or your characters view the film? Is it now contributing to the war effort in some way?

niewiera: The Russian invasion of February 24 changed everything. On the one hand, Katya, Slavik and Roman are in hell again, fighting for their country and for freedom. Watching the film now, with the knowledge that three of the comedy cast members are back in the forefront, is truly heartbreaking. You cannot be passive in this situation. Since the first day of the war, we have been organizing medical and humanitarian aid, which is sent directly to the units of our protagonists.

Our film now plays an important role in keeping alive the debate about the impact the war has had on the Ukrainian people. The engagement of the world at the beginning of the invasion was enormous and now the interest in Ukraine is slowly waning.

Rosolowski: Not all of our protagonists have had the opportunity to see the film. Slavik did it, and after the screening he said that even though the shooting ended only a year ago, the film looks like a document of a different time and reality. It is absolutely true, because you cannot separate our film from the dramatic real situation in Ukraine. This weekend there will be a Ukrainian premiere of the film in Kiev, and other screenings a few weeks later in Lviv, which we will attend.

Movie director: I was quite surprised to learn that the project you are developing through Elwira’s artist residency at the Jacob Burns Film Center is actually your first narrative film, about a real-life transgender heroine of the Solidarity movement who was basically written from Polish history. As veteran documentary filmmakers, why go into fiction now?

niewiera: As filmmakers we believe there are stories that need to be told. In our opinion, cinema is not a way to escape reality, but on the contrary a powerful tool to present our reality with all its dark sides. That’s why we’re making movies.

With Hamlet syndrome we were interested in the fate of the young Ukrainian generation, the first born in a free and independent Ukraine and shaped by the Maidan revolution. Likewise, we are now fascinated by the life story of Eva, who struggled against the communist regime in the 1970s and 1980s. When Poland became independent, our character started fighting for her true identity, she underwent a sex reassignment operation and became a woman. From that moment she was erased from the family and from the history of Poland, expelled to her margins. Her fate is tragic, but also symbolic of the unfinished transformation of Polish society after the end of the communist regime. You really can’t show the full potential of her story in a documentary film. We had to go into fiction to make it happen.


#Stories #told #Elwira #Niewiera #Piotr #Rosołowski #Ukrainian #documentary #emHamlet #syndromeem #Directors #magazine

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *