Looking back, director Maciek Hamela puts a human face on the Ukraine war – The Hollywood Reporter

Maciek Hamela’s documentary In the rear view, about Ukrainian refugees crossing their war-torn country in his dusty van as they seek safety in the first days of the Russian invasion, bows in Cannes.

But the Polish director is excited about the upcoming North American premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. Canada has kept its door wide open to Ukrainians and their families fleeing their war-torn country, and so Toronto and its vast Ukrainian diaspora community represent friendly territory for Hamela, in contrast to the dwindling support elsewhere in the West .

“Just to show the film in a country that gets it, that understands the importance of support much better than some of these Western European countries, which is actually bizarre because the conflict is so far away,” he says The Hollywood Reporter.

Among the audience at TIFF’s Scotiabank Theater during three public screenings is one of the documentary’s Ukrainian producers, Anna Palenchuk, who now lives in Toronto. “She emigrated with her family not long ago – she has three children – and she managed to do that, and that’s important to her,” adds Hamela.

In the rear viewThe effect on the audience begins like a slowly developing chase film, without the need for any patrol cars to be destroyed. The documentary was shot by four cameramen – Yura Dunay, Wawrzyniec Skoczylas, Marcin Sierakowski and Piotr Grawender – during the first days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, amid the first mass missile attacks and the advance of a Russian land force into the country.

Instead of trapping faceless Ukrainians in highway convoys or crowded train platforms trying to escape the life-threatening conflict, the Poland-France-Ukraine co-production focuses on a white-knuckled Hamela at the wheel of a van he’s rented while driving young and old Ukrainian civilians fleeing danger from their houses.

It is Hamela’s job as a humanitarian driver to bring his passengers, mostly women and children, to safety in western Ukraine, Poland and elsewhere as lives, including his own, are in serious danger. Occasionally a camera pans around the van or exits the vehicle entirely to illustrate the devastation that Ukraine faced amid chaos and destruction that played out in real time and in space.

The production of the minimalist debut documentary is pared down: a camera from the back seat captures Hamela up front and driving, with an additional view out the front window and another angle to the rear, portraying the evacuated passengers in the back of the van as they travel Pass checkpoints or avoid minefields.

From the emotional cocoon, Hamela conveys the feeling of a temporary refuge, despite the endless dangers of war that accompany her journey, the director’s flying camera captures the moment when the war and its humanitarian crisis transform ordinary people into frightened refugees , to escape an invading Russian army and its firepower.

“Our house and everything in it – a TV, the appliances, everything,” a young man tells another passenger about what his family left behind on the flight. “We released the dogs. What can we do?” He adds, while other passengers, when they are not quiet and thoughtful, shake their heads or talk and even laugh about their homes and many other things that are valuable in their lives that they had to let go of.

A husband tells his wife to stop proudly talking about a cow named Beauty that was left on their abandoned farm or she would just start crying again.

“A lot of people can relate to (Ukrainian) people because it’s almost like a family goes on vacation, you don’t know that. They have an argument. You didn’t close the closet. You didn’t take the keys. “It’s the normal life we ​​all lead,” Hamela explains as his van drives to and between cities and remote towns and villages such as Kiev, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Sloviansk and Soledar, where an older man climbs into the van and reported that cluster bombs had fallen there, including on his daughter’s house.

Soon, viewers of In the rear view Hear the confidences and confessions of uprooted passengers, shared entirely by chance. A young passenger tells Hamela that she is pregnant and has become a surrogate mother to raise money to open a pastry shop and renovate her house.

Her serene and sometimes smiling face as she speaks of her hopes and dreams dashed by the horrors of war has a beauty that suddenly transcends the horror of Hamela’s van as it speeds up another highway.

Viewers will see families separate as people enter the van, preferably without crying, to avoid leaving husbands, wives and children of all ages in puddles of tears. Here In the rear view was filmed against a decidedly political backdrop.

When Europe suddenly granted temporary asylum to Ukrainians, Hamela brought refugees to its borders that were considered far more controversial, as people from Africa or the Middle East were suddenly seen in a completely different light than people from the heart of Europe.

Here, Hamela and his cameras wanted to show that the passengers in his transport were like everyone else, their hopes and dreams dashed by the sudden war.

“The idea behind the film is to show this ordinary life of Ukrainians, that it is just like any other life in Europe, in North America or around the world,” he says THR.

The Polish director insists he didn’t want to make a typical war documentary with footage from trenches and other points behind enemy lines.

“Cameras are everywhere. “We can see GoPro footage of soldiers fighting all over TV and on the news,” argues Hamela, which leaves a global audience feeling distant or even like there is a wall between them and the horrors of conflict at their heart Europe is past its 500-day mark.

“We wanted to create a connection to connect with people and make them feel like they are in this car and traveling with refugees. That’s why I wanted to focus on the stories in the van and not move away from them, so that we feel part of this great journey with the Ukrainian nation, with the exodus at the beginning of the war,” emphasizes the director.

Hamela adds that he didn’t expect this when he was filming In the rear view that the war in Ukraine would last so long and that he needed to reinforce a message of support in Toronto for that country’s embattled population.

“I am a born optimist. I had a feeling this might take a few months. I was hoping that the war would be over by the time we finished the film,” he says.

Another goal in Toronto is to secure a North American distributor for the documentary, which is scheduled to be released in Europe later this year.

“This is the right place in Toronto to choose the right partner for a theatrical release,” he says. “Because the film audience at the festival appreciates the film as a work for the cinema, we hope to find a good partner for North America.”

Brian Ashcraft

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