Wartime Ukraine – Sit in the cinema seat for an hour of normal life

When the war in Ukraine was two weeks old, Maria Hlazunova started showing movies to her family at home. The first was Charlie Chaplin’s “Great Dictator” – they laughed a lot. Laughter helped fight fear, says Maria Hlazunova. She works at the Dovzhenko Center in Kiev, the National Film Archive and the Cultural Center of Ukraine.

Her private performances gave her an idea: underground cinema. Hlazunova saw photos of mothers and children sheltered in subway stations during the bombing alarm and wondered how she could help and make people’s lives easier.

Cinema in the subway

The Dovzhenko Center has a large collection of Ukrainian films, including animated ones. Hlazunova organized a children’s film program and approached the city with her idea for a cinema in the subway.

The idea was captured: the screens were placed in five subway stations. In addition to the children’s program, there was an adult program, which included silent films. Because at night, according to Hlazunova, people want to sleep even in subway stations.

For example, she screened the 1928 silent film classic “The Night Coachman”, an early Ukrainian cinema masterpiece about the civil war in Odessa in the 1920s. .

The need for culture after the first blow of the war

Unlike Kiev, there is no subway in Lviv, but employees of the Dovteenko Center have initiated a cinema there as well. Because in the first weeks after the start of the war, all the cultural and leisure facilities of the city were closed, says Oleksandr Teliuk, head of the Dovteenko Film Archive.

After the first shock of the war, the need for exchange and culture arose again in the city. A communal gallery provided space for film screenings – and free screenings with subsequent discussions are always very popular.

Many classic Ukrainian films from the National Archives will be screened. In Ukraine, says Teliuk, there is no specific art house film culture. Movie screenings in galleries are the only way in Lviv to see classic movies on the big screen.

Usually, Ukrainians tend to watch Hollywood movies, but Teliuk thinks that the high interest in gallery screenings may indicate a growing interest in Ukrainian films.

Identity and History of Ukraine

One reason for the interest in these films may be that the classic films tell something about Ukrainian history and identity. This is now important for people at war. Recently, a series of documentaries were shown on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.

A historical-political program is also showing the largest cinema chain in Ukraine, “Multiplex”. Cinemas, says Multiplex managing director Roman Romanchuk, are now showing documentaries, including those on Ukrainian history; there are discussions about this.

Nine “multiplex” cinemas have been opened in Ukraine at the moment. In Kharkiv and Mariupol cinemas were destroyed. The number of visitors across the country is about ten percent of the usual accommodation rate.

The Hollywood movie reappears popular

But there are also many Ukrainian films showing up for another reason: the big Hollywood studios are not sending any new films to Ukraine at the moment. Romanchuk believes that studios like Warner or Disney are afraid of damaging their image if there are bomb attacks during the screenings of their films and if cinema-goers are endangered.

“Multiplex” cinemas show short documentaries being shot in the middle of the war, as well as films by directors like Sergei Loznitsa – for example “Donbass” from 2018 about the war in eastern Ukraine. However, light entertainment movies are more popular, and Hollywood movie reruns top cinema listings.

Cinema lovers say they want to have something like a normal life for an hour in the cinema. The spread of this has always been the greatest force of cinema, both in times of crisis and in times of war.

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