Tymur Yashchenko • Director of U311 Cherkasy
“This film came from the heart”
by Marta Bałaga
- We met up with debuting Polish-based Ukrainian director Tymur Yashchenko to talk about his Odesa-screened first feature, U311 Cherkasy
Fresh off showing his first feature, U311 Cherkasy [+see also:
interview: Tymur Yashchenko
film profile], in the Odesa International Film Festival’s National Competition, Tymur Yashchenko explained to Cineuropa why he decided to make a film about a mine-sweeping trawler which defended itself for three weeks in 2014, before ultimately being seized by Russian forces.
Cineuropa: It’s always a risk to tell a story inspired by real events, especially when it’s something that happened quite recently. What made you want to do it?
Tymur Yashchenko: That’s easy: I was so inspired by this story. Yes, it happened recently, but I didn’t really think that might pose a problem – I only realised it when we were already editing the film. People still remember it very well, and some are afraid to talk about it so soon. But all that was happening in my country back then gave me tremendous energy. I was crying, watching videos from Maidan and seeing all of these changes happening before my very eyes. The way I work is more about intuition – it’s less about intellect. This whole film came from the heart. I saw these sailors singing, and the thing is that I am from [the city of] Cherkasy, too – I was born there. So a Cherkasy ship?! I didn’t even know it existed. From that very second, I had no doubt in my mind that I would make a movie about it. After all, Apocalypse Now was also made right after certain events, although I always gravitated more towards the documentary about it.
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse by Eleanor Coppola and George Hickenlooper?
Yes. It showed me who the director is and what his role is on set. I learned more from this film than I did in school. When making U311 Cherkasy, I was thinking about it a lot because Coppola and I went through a similar kind of director’s hell [laughs]. We were also already inspired by it during the writing process.
You mentioned having been born in Cherkasy, and that’s an environment you previously explored in your short Lew.
Making that film helped me a lot. Only after I made it did the Ukrainian State Film Agency finally understand that I was serious. It was the right way to show everyone how I wanted to shoot my feature. I am not sure we would be here today were it not for Lew. It helped me personally, and it also helped us to raise money.
Stories that are important politically very often end up being quite sentimental when portrayed on the screen, but you seem quite averse to it. Every time a scene threatens to go in that direction, you take it somewhere else.
That’s one of the reasons why I asked screenwriter Robert Kwilman to be my co-writer. He is French-Polish, and he doesn’t have that pathos that I do, at least as a Ukrainian patriot. That helped us to strike some kind of a balance. I still think it’s a poetic, metaphorical film, but I talked to real sailors and wanted to show the truth. There is a naturalistic aspect to it because I find it more interesting.
You just showed your film to the local audience for the first time. Had they been waiting for this kind of story?
I really didn’t know how people would react to it here in Odesa. Actually, I was expecting them to go: “WTF?! Where are the heroes?” I was preparing for the worst, and in a way, I still am waiting for that. We were supposed to finish the film last year, but then it might have been completely different. The political situation has changed significantly since then, and now people seem happy with it. They didn’t feel like it was a piece of propaganda, which is something I wanted to avoid at all costs, also because I want to show this movie to foreigners. When we started, I told everyone: “I don’t know if I know more than you do, so let’s all work together.” My composer, Anton Baibakov, also likes to follow his intuition, and I just said to him: “Take my film to the next level!” Cinema is about much more than just the director.
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